More than half of all email is spam. But more than this, spammers put a huge financial drain on the economy, shifting almost all the costs of their advertising to every potential consumer, not just those who buy the products.
In the "old days," advertisers spent money designing a direct mail piece which went to a printer who had to buy paper and ink. Next it had to be addressed, sorted, and delivered to the post office. These costs were built into the price of the product.
This process added money to the economy. Layout and design people, printers, and envelope stuffers all got paid. Advertisers needed to be willing to invest money to make money.
But spam is different. Spammers operate on sheer volume for very little expense. No layout people, printers, or envelope stuffers are needed.
To the advertiser it's an ideal solution. Costs are a mere fraction of what they used to be. It's a great deal.
Or is it?
Spam eats up Internet bandwidth and takes time to download, both of which take away from production time. Research from the University of Maryland indicates that each spam received eats up about nine seconds of employee productivity.
According to a "cost of spam" calculator available at cmsconnect.com, the annual cost of dealing with spam is probably about $925 per-employee per-year, not to mention fifty hours of lost productivity per-employee.
That's a pretty high price for us to pay just so some spammer can try to capture a gullible few.
Similarly, with spam faxes, it's not the spammer but the recipient that bears the cost. Plus you have to love it when someone is trying to fax you a contract but your fax is busy receiving an unsolicited stock market opportunity.
Many have gone to using spam filters on their email, but you run the risk of weeding out actual business correspondence.
As an example, I have a client that communicates mostly through email. Several weeks back this client requested a document and I sent it right away. A week later I received a second request for the document, so I sent it again. The other day I received a third request for this same document. Obviously he never received the others. Not good!
Upon further investigation we discovered his email filter sorted the messages into his "junk" folder. That kind of hiccup can create huge hidden costs – and perhaps lost business. Much of the problem resides in the US Government's CAN-SPAM act of 2003. In this largely gutless bill, spammers run rampant because of the "opt-out" feature built into the law.
Bad move! The opt-out process simply tells the spammers they have a valid name on their list. This just makes the problem worse.
For example, over the course of five days I received five identical faxes (identical except for the phone numbers), each offering a trip to Disneyland for $99. I had called the "opt out" number listed on each one, yet I kept getting daily faxes. When the sixth fax came I called the reservation number. After getting past several "screeners," I found myself talking with a travel agent in Canada.
The agent was upset I had made it past the screeners, but I managed to get an explanation of how the loopholes work:
Seems that a spam company will sell Travel Agency "A" a fax list, and then, representing that agency, sends out thousands of faxes. Many recipients will call the "opt-out" number to remove their fax number from the list.
But once the spam company is finished faxing for Travel Agency "A," they will line up Travel Agency "B" and sell them the same fax list - including the numbers that previously opted out.
You will now get a very similar fax from Travel Agency B.
This process continues with Travel Agencies "C" and "D" and so on because the spam company is continually hired to represent new travel agencies. And you will continue to receive faxes because technically you never opted-out of receiving a fax from any of the new travel agencies.
When I told the agent that I was going to call my congressman about this, her reply was "Go ahead. We're in Canada, and your laws don't apply here," and she promptly hung up.
Interestingly, the Federal Trade Commission's report to Congress on the effectiveness of the CAN-SPAM Act points out this weakness: Fraudulent domain registration information and spammers locating themselves abroad make them difficult to prosecute.
I'm not one who likes adding new, broad-sweeping laws, but the FTC recommends that Congress pass the US SAFE WEB Act, which would "significantly improve the ability … to trace spammers and sellers whose operations are outside the borders of the United States."
As of this writing, the SAFE WEB ACT (S. 1608) has passed the Senate and is currently collecting dust in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Because spammers are wasting the time and money of people everywhere, I think it's time we do something more to go after them.
Perhaps when Congress reconvenes after the upcoming election, we can urge them to get the US SAFE WEB ACT passed. I don't believe it will solve the problem, but it might slow it down. The economic drain is immeasurable. It's not right that advertisers pass off to us the cost of their advertising, steal our time, and impede our productivity. They're clearly doing that, and it's wrong.