| or some, spam is like ants at a picnic:
uninvited, ubiquitous and annoying. For many others, whose
uninvited e-mails flood their computer mailbox, it’s an
expensive headache. Try as you might, technology can’t
entirely eliminate spam. But stay with us and we’ll share with
you the best and easiest ways to filter most of it out of your
How serious is spam? The Postini Resource Center says 10 out of 12 e-mails are spam and The Wall Street Journal estimates it costs business $8.9 billion a year for the software and labor to separate it from regular mail. But the Direct Marketing Association says there’s a positive side to unsolicited e-mail. In a recent 12-month period, 45.8 million Americans (9% of all mail users) made a purchase in response to an e-mail ad, yielding $7.1 billion in sales.
Efforts to outlaw spam have failed mostly because it’s hard to define. Microsoft says spam is “unsolicited commercial e-mail sent to advertise a product or a service,” but merchants contend that most advertising—through the mail, magazines, radio or television—is unsolicited. Federal Trade Commissioner Orson Swindle has adapted the oft-used definition of pornography: “It’s anything I don’t like.”
The technical name for spam is unwanted commercial e-mail. Using the name spam for junk e-mail comes from a Monty Python skit in which a song containing the word was repeated many times.
REDUCE THE CLUTTER
Step 1: Never reply to spam. This includes clicking any link from sources you don’t recognize inviting you to unsubscribe.
Step 2: Use “plus-addressing.” You can obtain several addresses, each with a slight change, from any of several free e-mail services, including www.hotmail.com , www.juno.com and www.yahoo.com . So in addition to email@example.com, you can use firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. When registering online for content or services, use one of the plus-addresses—and keep your regular address private.
Step 3: Use the spam filters provided by your e-mail software—Outlook, Eudora and Thunderbird, as well as antivirus software and firewalls. Or check whether your e-mail Internet service provider (ISP) is using spam-filtering techniques. If not, consider switching.
Step 4: Consider not using the preview pane in your e-mail package. When you open a message in which that feature, showing the first few lines of each e-mail, is activated, it reports back to the spammer that your account is active and valid.
Step 5: Do not include links to your e-mail address on your Web site.
Step 6: Use antivirus protection and firewalls to protect your computer from being used by spammers.
Step 7: When registering for information or content on the Web, uncheck boxes that invite mailings.
Step 8: Don’t forward chain letters, petitions or virus warnings from sources you don’t trust. They’re used by spammers to collect addresses.
One of the headaches caused by spam-fighting programs is false negatives that fail to block spam and false positives, where the software labels a legitimate e-mail as advertising. Manage false positives by using software that blocks suspect messages in a quarantined area while letting users set up lists of trusted sources.
Remember to test your antispam strategy and software prior to full implementation. You can create shadow e-mail accounts and try out your antispam program on them.
Some day spam may be a thing of the past. In the meantime, the only defense is constant vigilance, and the best it can achieve is keeping the annoyance under control.
DOUGLAS HAVELKA is an assistant professor of management information systems at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org . CATHERINE S. NEAL is an assistant professor of business ethics and business law at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .