Results OECD workshop on spam

By EDRi · February 11, 2004

During the OECD workshop on spam, held in Brussels on 2 and 3 February,
the consumer unions of Europe and the USA (united in the Trans Atlantic
Consumer Dialogue) presented the results of a survey amongst 21.102
consumers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. 96 percent of the people
said that either they hated spam or that it annoyed them. 82% of the
respondents said that governments should only allow commercial e-mails to
be sent if the recipient has agreed in advance to receive them (opt-in).

In spite of this apparent massive wish for opt-in, representatives from
the US Federal Trade Commission defended the new opt-out legislation in
the United States. This invoked polite criticism from Commissioner
Liikanen and less politely worded responses from representatives from ISPs
and consumer associations.

The different approach taken on either side of the Atlantic “doesn’t help”
in developing an international approach to combat spam, said Erkki
Liikanen, the European Commissioner for the information society. According
to another spokesperson from the Commission, 80% of all the countries
united in the OECD already have an opt-regime or are busy implementing it,
making the US the big exception.

George Mills from Eurocauce calculated that with approximately 23 million
companies in the United States, even if only 1% of these companies would
spam, he would have a full time job in sending opt-out requests, even with
his high average speed of 2 opt-outs per minute.

According to statistics presented by the CEO of the company Brightmail 60%
of all e-mail in the world is spam. This level will reach its top later
this year at 65%. Brightmail uses millions of decoy addresses to detect
and analyse spam. According to these inboxes, 90% of all spam mails
contains some kind of fraudulous or deceptive sender or routing

These statistics supported the claim from the FTC that independent of the
opt-in / opt-out debate, the Can-Spam act is effective. Hugh Stevenson
from the FTC explained they had already dealed with 55 cases, mostly
scams. ‘Follow the money’, was the best advice he could give to his
audience, even if it takes an average of 10 to 15 subpoena’s to trace an
average spammer through different providers and network parties. The new
criminal sanctions on spoofing, false headers and misleading routing
information enabled the FTC to deal with spam-cases that were otherwise
difficult to prosecute.

More than a 100 experts from Europe, the US, Australia, Korea and Japan
attended the workshop, mostly focussed on statistics and practical
solutions for cross-border enforcement. One of the more hilarious verbal
battles took place between Charles Prescott from the Direct Marketing
Association and Marc Rotenberg from the USA based civil liberty group
EPIC. They presented completely different conclusions about research on
spam in the Pew Internet Project.

Though both agreed that 70% of the interviewed users in the USA said that
spam made being online unpleasant or annoying, Prescott concluded that
people that complain about spam complain about everything. According to
him, all these people also complain about the noise of lawn blowers. Most
attendees of the workshop fell completely silent after this insult, but
burst out in cheerful laughter when Marc Rotenberg compared spammers to
factories that pollute the environment, with governments advising citizens
to carefully wash their hands, and if necessary, wear gas masks inside.

The workshop did not produce any clear conclusions, other than a
confirmation of the recommendations of the European Commission to combat
spam in many different ways; both with legal and technical means, as well
as socially and commercially, in educating all internet users about the
need to secure networks.

TACD survey on spam (02.02.2004)

Annotated program of the workshop (with links to presentations by speakers),2340,en_2649_37441_26514927_1_1_1_37441,00.html

Pew Internet report on spam (22.10.2003)