NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Slamming Spammers

June 12, 2003

According to Britain's New Statesman, 13 percent of e-mail users have changed their addresses since the start of the year in order to escape spam.

As the size of the problem changes, so does its nature. Two years ago spam was a joke. A year ago it was an annoyance. And a few weeks ago, Earthlink executive David Baker told a reporter that spam "has the potential to render the Net virtually unusable."

The e-mail addresses are practically all the spammer pays for:

  • All the other costs are externalized, falling on consumers, other businesses and government.
  • Business groups estimate $9 billion in productivity will be lost to spam this year.

Consumers pay for spam through time lost deleting files and through phone bills while they do it; telecom companies subsidize spam through the bandwidth they build; Internet service providers must install new machines to accommodate it; and everyone pays for spam in the slowdown of Internet traffic.

  • Two thirds of spam mailings are fraudulent in some way, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • About 44 percent of spam mailings come from fictitious addresses.
  • Almost 90 percent of spam comes from about 200 practitioners.

One method to combat spam, experts say, is to require commercial e-mailers to offer an "opt-out" choice to their targets. A spammer could then be fined for continuing to solicit consumers who had explicitly requested to be left in peace.

Source: Christopher Caldwell, "You've Got Spam: The inundation of unsolicited e-mail advertising, and what to do about it," Vol. 8, Issue 39, June 16, 2003, Weekly Standard.

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