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Foreign servers block Chinese e-mails to fight spam


March 2, 2002

E-mails sent overseas from China are being bounced back as foreign servers set up blanket bans on many Chinese Internet addresses to stem a growing tide of marketing e-mail from the mainland, industry sources said Friday.

Junk e-mail, commonly known as spam, is widely regarded as a nuisance by Western Internet users. Many Internet users set up filters to screen out large e-mails which could be advertisements.

However, some Chinese servers are sending out so much spam that it is causing technical problems for some foreign firms. Junk mail frequently blocks e-mail accounts because it can be too large to download.

But since most foreign companies do not have the personnel to screen e-mails one by one, they have set up blockades against the worst offending servers.

Since last August, London-based Internet server Ultradesign Xtreme Network announced they would block most mails from China and put many major domestic mail servers - such as Sina.com, Sohu.com and 163.net - on their blacklist, the Southern Weekend newspaper reported.

If China doesn't move to stem the growth of spam, domestic servers are likely to face serious problems and individual users will also feel the pain.

"Many of my e-mails to my friends overseas come bouncing back without explanation," said Zhang Xuemei, a 24-year-old office worker.

Domestic mail servers have problems controlling spam as most of it comes from international senders routing it through largely unregulated Chinese servers.

"It is very hard for us to control the delivery of spam mails because it is like posting advertisements in public places," said Mr. Zhang from Uninet Company, a local mail server.

Zhang said the government "has regulations forbidding people from posting advertisements in public places but there are no such laws governing the Internet in China."

Local engineers said China has so far paid little attention to junk e-mail because most spam senders are not Chinese and few Chinese Internet users have complained.

"Technically, spam mails can only be detected by reading the content, so it costs mail servers large amounts of money, labor and energy to scrub them out," said Jiang Meng, a Web engineer at a U.S. computer company.

Since most domestic mail servers provide free mail delivery service "in order to attract more eyeballs, they cannot afford to put strict controls on mail management," he added.

China's entry into the World Trade Organization is likely to sharply increase Chinese exchange activities with overseas groups. Domestic Web sites will face problems if more foreign companies choose to block mails and links from China.

Communications difficulties between Chinese engineers and their overseas counterparts and the lack of advanced training on how to maintain users' mailboxes has worsened the problem.

"I hope the government will pay more attention on the spam mail problem, otherwise it will cause big problems for the development of local Web sites," Jiang said.

Copyright © 2002 Agence France-Presse


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