Squashing spam

OECD Observer

Governments must step up their fight against spam or risk seeing consumer and business confidence in the Internet buried under a mountain of junk e-mail, the OECD has warned.

“We need a co-ordinated international drive to maintain consumer and business confidence in the Internet,” OECD Deputy Secretary-General Herwig Schlögl told a two- day OECD workshop on spam hosted by the European Commission in Brussels in February. Spam threatens to erode consumer confidence online, which in turn would undermine the digital economy and the open character of the Internet as a whole.”

The intrusiveness of spam, much of it linked to fraudulent, deceptive or pornographic activities and increasingly debilitating computer viruses, has raised questions about the future development of e-commerce. Even normal civic activity, including e-government, would be at risk. Despite increasing use of antispam services and technologies, the volume of spam continues to rise and, according to some sources, now accounts for as much as half of all e-mail traffic on the Internet.

The OECD has already produced influential guidelines for computer security, online privacy and consumer protection, setting basic standards for governments, companies and individuals to go by. The organisation is leading the charge, bringing governments, businesses and other concerned parties together to discuss ways to combat spam.

While there is no easy solution, governments can act on several fronts. They can use their spending power as IT clients, for a start, to encourage suppliers to develop more effective anti-spam protection systems. And via education they can encourage a trust culture, backed up with rules, rather like switching mobile phones off while driving or in air travel.

©OECD Observer No 242, March 2004

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