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Web users fight advertising e-mails

May 27, 2001

WASHINGTON (May 27, 2001 01:10 p.m. EDT - Internet users are drowning in a sea of e-mails, and some are now fighting back with a campaign to halt the flood of unsolicited e-mail advertising, known as "spam."

The battle over spam has come to Washington, where some are calling for legislation aimed at limiting unsolicited e-mail advertising.

Anti-spam activists say hardly a day goes by when they don't receive some form of online advertising - weight-loss schemes, lures to pornographic sites or other marketing efforts.

"There are 24 million small business in the United States ... If just one percent of those businesses sent you just one e-mail advertisement a year, that's 657 e-mail advertisements in your inbox each day," says Scott Hazen Mueller of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE), a U.S. lobby group that has branches in Canada, Europe, India and Australia.

International Data Corp. estimated last year that the average daily volume of e-mail around the world was around 10 billion e-mails and will explode to 35 billion by 2005.

Why the flood of advertising e-mails? According to Forrester Research, 18 percent of recipients click on an e-mail message to read it, compared with 0.65 percent for Internet banner advertising.

A European Union study indicates an e-mail campaign costs about 10 cents per customer, compared with 50 cents to $1 for mail sent through the post office.

But e-mail advertising costs users: according to the EU study, e-mail recipients end up paying 10 billion euros ($8.6 billion) in connection costs for reading these ads.

And Internet service providers have to bear the costs of bandwidth, filtering software, extra hardware and personnel to cope with the volume of e-mails, not to mention the unhappy customers, notes John Mozena of CAUCE.

Hoyt Hudson of Chicago-based InterAccess, a large Internet service provider, estimates that 40 percent of the system's capacity is used to deliver spam to customers.

"Spam is a terrible problem," Hudson said. "I have to build larger platforms to carry it, which costs money, and then we get complaints from customers who want us to stop it, which we try to do."

But he said it is not easy to filter out unwanted ads from other e-mails.

"If you kill 100 spam messages and also kill one legitimate e-mail along with the 100, is that acceptable? We don't want even one legitimate e-mail to get lost in an anti-spam filter," he said.

America Online, for example, estimates that 30 percent of the e-mails going to its subscribers are unsolicited ads.

Several states have anti-spam laws, which call for fines on violators, but Mozena said these are ineffective because of the geographic limitations of state officials.

Activists have turned to Congress for legislation, but a House committee recently stripped out some controversial measures, including one that would allow users to sue for damages. Lawmakers are still considering efforts that would require ads to be labeled and include a valid e-mail and physical address.


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Copyright © 2001 Agence France-Presse


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