Spammed for the Holidays

  |  November 27, 2002   |  Comments

As retailers bolster their sales efforts, some junk-mail solutions companies expect to see a surge in unsolicited commercial e-mail.

It's the holidays, which means no rest for weary retailers -- or for consumers deluged by spam. In fact, the holidays could actually prompt an increase in unwanted commercial email, according to several anti-spam operations.

David Strickler, founder of email protection company MailWise, said the holiday season could result in a surge that could make spam up to 90 percent of all Internet email, as anxious retailers bolster their efforts to boost holiday sales.

New MailWise data indicates that while spam normally accounts for approximately 60 percent of all Internet email traffic, a 20 to 30 increase in spam can be expected between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said.

Other filtering companies estimate the volume of spam at 30 percent to 50 percent, but regardless of the specific figure, it certainly has been on the rise. San Francisco-based Brightmail, for instance, has seen spam on its customer networks increase from 8 percent of mail to 41 percent over the past 14 months.

Brightmail, which markets an integrated suite of anti-spam software and services, reported more than 5.3 million unique spam attacks in October of 2002.

"... we have seen seasonal increases in unsolicited email at gift-giving holidays throughout the year," Frangois Lavaste, Brightmail's vice president of marketing, told internetnews.com. "Given the economic climate at the moment and the low cost of email, we expect to see holiday email marketing, including unsolicited offers, spike in December. However, spam filtering companies need to be careful not to block legitimate holiday offers and holiday greetings from parties with whom consumers have an established relationship."

According to Strickler, retailers counting on holiday spending to salvage lackluster 2002 revenues are set to bombard consumers with holiday ads through all mediums, including email.

"This year's twist on the holiday ad deluge will be spam, and much of it will be directed at consumers' corporate inboxes," he said. "The surge in email traffic could potentially cripple corporate computing systems, cut employee productivity, and cost companies millions of dollars each month."

Boston-based MailWise markets a spam and virus filtering solution on an ASP basis.

Not everyone agrees that the holidays equate with an uptick in spam, however.

"Spam doesn't follow the rational economics of the paper world, where marketers spend big to mail more catalogs in the seasons when people are buying more," said Jason Catlett, founder of Junkbusters.com. "Because spammers pay almost nothing to send their junk, they just do it whenever they can.

"Legitimate marketers almost never spam, and the holiday season is not especially correlated with their occasional foolish lapses. Of course spam is still growing at its usual intolerably high rate, so we will likely get a increase before, during, and after the holiday period."

The experts say spam email marketing has low response rates, often less than half a percent, but is extremely cheap, which explains why it is so prevalent.

Spam, of course, has spawned a small industry of counter-spam companies, and free stop-spam applications also abound -- just do a Google search.

One of the newest freebies comes from Internet technologies company KMGI in New York, which has released free software called "Eliminate Spam!" that it claims can ban any sender with a single click.

KMGI said it plans to distribute 20 million copies of the freeware version of Eliminate Spam! by the end of 2003 and intends to recoup the investment by offering multi-user licensing to corporate users.

And if you're just plain fed up with it all, you can send your spam to uce@ftc.gov. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission uses the unsolicited emails stored in this database to pursue law enforcement actions against people who send deceptive spam email.

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