Junk emails are costing UK businesses #5 billion a year and are threatening the Internet's growth as a business medium.
This is the conclusion of a report commissioned by Novell, entitled 'A Spammer in the Works', which found that 75 per cent of the people surveyed receive up to five unsolicited, unwanted or untargeted emails, (called spams) a day, with a further 16 per cent receiving between six and 25 a day.
The survey revealed the urgent need for companies to recognise the very real problem of spamming and adopt a policy for dealing with it. Peter Josephs, Novell?s market development manager, is concerned that very few companies have rules or guidelines to advise their staff on how to deal with spams. More than three-quarters of responding companies admitted they had no policy in place for dealing with or preventing the dramatic growth in spam emails.
A great deal of time is wasted just identifying which messages are spams, with 75 per cent claiming they waste up to 15 minutes a day reading, deleting or responding to junk email, and 15 per cent spending an hour or more.
As many as 61 per cent said they read spams before deleting them, with only one-third deleting them without reading them. This wasted time could be greatly reduced if all companies had a policy that advised staff on the best way to quickly identify and deal with spams, believe the report's authors.
The lack of policy escalates the problem as users, unaware of how spams work, will often reply to the sender and thus validate their email address, so attracting further messages. Josephs said people need to be told simple rules, such as not automatically replying to unsolicited email or leaving their addresses in chat rooms. "They need to be told the dos and the don?ts of email," he said.
Taking the working population as a whole, the report calculated that the amount of time wasted with spam emails each year could be valued at over #5 billion. In addition to this, the huge increase in spamming is negating the efficiency savings that can be made through the Internet and email. Nearly half the people surveyed (47 per cent) believed that the spam problem is already serious enough to drive companies away from using Net email.
But this could prevent the Internet achieving its full potential as a business medium of the next century. Companies must adopt a strategy that identifies the problem of junk email and then work to eliminate it, claims the report, and they must take advantage of the technology that is available to deal with spams. Only six per cent of respondents have implemented any of the available products for filtering out spam.
Josephs warns that this is only the tip of the iceberg and fully expects the situation to get worse. Even if spam levels are manageable for individuals, on a company-wide basis they will increase to a worrying degree, especially as the spammers get increasingly clever, disguising the emails they transmit and sending them via ISPs that people trust.
The statistics within this survey, and the isolated cases of cyberstalking, may be shocking but they do help to bring the problem to people?s attention. "?It all contributes to raising the profile of the problem of spamming," said Josephs.
In the fight against this inappropriate use of the Internet, companies need to adopt a two-pronged attack, he advises. They must be quick to put into place a policy for dealing with spams and then they must take advantage of the technology available to block and filter email messages.
Responsibility for curbing the problem lies in part with the service providers. Josephs believes that the ISPs have a duty to protect the subscribers. "They have to provide a quality of service in response to customer pressure," he said.
America Online (AOL) says that it is very aware of the problem of junk email every day and wants to protect its members from this threat. An AOL spokesman said that his company takes a proactive role in shielding its members from any inappropriate use of the Internet.
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