Saturday, 21 January 2006


Unsolicited commercial email is what the manufacturers of canned spiced ham would like us to call it, but everyone has called it spam ever since the early '90s, twenty years after the 1971 Monty Python sketch (Bloody Vikings! You can't have egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam!) which inspired the modern usage. Now, you can't have your email without the spam.

My main email address (which I don't want to change) was harvested many years ago before I knew how to prevent this, and about 74% of all the emails I receive are spam, which is close to the figure currently being quoted as the world average*. Research by Microsoft suggested that on one day in April last year the proportion was 98%, so perhaps it is a declining problem.

Anyway, for me it's only a very minor irritation nowadays. After a quick look before downloading (using MailMaint) the various other filters do their work and then there are only a tiny handful of doubtfuls that I may have to open and check; in all, I suppose I spend a couple of minutes a day deleting spam, which is not a great burden, about the same time as I spend polishing my glasses.

But over a few days last week I actually looked at a couple of hundred spam messages before deleting them, just to see what sort of things were coming in. The enticing offers broke down as follows:
Drugs (including Viagra): 78
Dodgy goods (watches, software, university degrees): 39
Financial (shares, mortgages etc): 30
Miscellaneous or incomprehensible: 22
In Russian or Japanese: 9
Easy money: 7
Hotels and travel: 7
Porn: 6
Scams (419 type): 2

[*The website linked here has a great deal of data about the countries where spam and viruses originate. It seems that the UK is relatively innocent in this respect, though it looks on their map as if there might be a bit of spam-producing wickedness going on in the Brighton area, which would surprise no-one. However, some sources of spam cannot be traced, so it is quite possible that there is a vast organisation based in, say, Bourton-on-the-Water, churning out spam and cunningly concealing its location.]

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