First some good headline news amid all the gloom: spam incidents are going down. There has been 8 per cent less unwanted junk e-mail over the last year worldwide, according to a new report from Messagelabs. The reason is relatively simple; an American ISP called Intercage went down the swannee earlier this year and its customers - many of whom used it for spamming innocent bystanders - have seen less junk in their box as a result.
Hmm. Well, it's researched and it's true, but I'm not sure that it matters a great deal. I get a lot of spam because as a freelance I have to make sure my e-mail address is out there quite a lot and easily available so it kind of goes with the territory. Frankly an 8 per cent drop in the amount of spam isn't going to make a powerful difference to me. It's like pointing to someone who was 10ft underwater and is now 9ft, and assuming it's OK, they won't drown any more so you don't have to worry. This, of course, doesn't make sense.
What actually matters is just how good your ISP or IT set-up actually is at dealing with the spam that inevitably gets through. This is where the difficulty can be not so much getting rid of the spam you don't want but retaining the false positives that you do. I've just checked my own mailbox on my system right now and can confirm I've had one bona fide press release moved to the junk folder by Apple Mail already today (this is after 2 hours work, UK time). Logging on to the Gmail site I'm pleased to see that all the stuff in the spam bin is genuine rubbish - but ironically on checking what's just come into my inbox now (no, really, while I'm typing this) there's something from someone calling themselves a friend in Christ, who probably wants my money.
This is the actual problem. Yes, a reduction in volume is going to help a bit but until the tools become sophisticated enough to spot what someone's likely to want to see and what someone isn't, there's going to be a colossal management problem. I'm not pretending to have any answers - as long as 15 years ago I was talking to companies who thought banning (for example) the names of certain body parts in e-mails would take care of the problem, which would be kind of interesting for various entirely respectable members of the medical profession. One person's junk can often be another individual's professional meat and drink. But crowing that a particular ISP has gone down - presumably with a number of job loses in tow - strikes me as less than constructive.
You can read the full Messagelabs report here.