Spam Still Poses Threat to ISPs

The battle against unsolicited commercial e-mail may not be a new one, but the maker of a leading spam solution Thursday cautioned ISPs against becoming complacent in their fight to control the flood.

“News of spam’s death is highly exaggerated. It continues to be a problem,” said Jeff Magill, vice president of marketing for Bright Light Technologies.

Bright Light markets a variety of solutions to businesses and Internet providers to fight spam. Earlier this week, Bright Light introduced Bright Mail, a free consumer service designed to stem the flow of unwanted e-mail.

Speaking Thursday at Summer Internet World 99, Magill said while privacy and other issues are competing with spam for the public’s attention, the level of spam continues to increase.

The problem has serious financial impacts for ISPs, Magill said, citing recent statistics from the Gartner Group that showed 75 percent of Internet users would change their ISP if they thought it would reduce the level of spam they receive. The level of unwanted e-mail is the No. 4 reason users leave an ISP and 74 percent believe ISPs should regulate spam.

Large commercial ISPs also face an image problem if their networks are being used to transmit spam or if their domains are being used in forged unwanted e-mails, he said. For a large ISP, that could mean 3 percent of their annual gross revenues are eaten fighting unwanted e-mail.

“ISPs with a negative image due to spam usually ends up paying more to acquire new customers,” he said.

The problem with fighting spam is defining it is subjective. That makes it difficult to motivate state and federal authorities to enact a legislative solution and fighting it through lawsuits is expensive, he said.

To help consumers fight the problem, Bright Light on Monday introduced a free version of its Bright Mail service. The system, which works on any Post Office Protocol-based e-mail account, draws on a database of known e-mail addresses, domain names, subject listings and other information that has been put into a series of filters.

Another serious side effect of spam, Magill said, is the effect it has had on businesses using opt-in e-mail lists to market goods and services to customers.

“There’s a real danger that today’s opt-in e-mail will be tomorrow’s spam,” he said.

Of course, the reason unsolicited commercial e-mail exists is simple. Recent statistics shows using opt-in e-mail to market costs between $100 and $300 per thousand compared to almost nothing to send unwanted e-mail since the costs are primarily borne by the consumer and Internet providers.

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