There has been a spate of seminars, roundtables and
articles recently on spam the unsolicited electronic
email landing in your ''Inbox''. How it is invidious and
''top of mind'' among individuals and corporates. Nothing
can be further from the truth.
and individuals in India subject to spam are but a fraction
of the total population. Invidious though it may be,
spam still afflicts only a minority. The total penetration
of the Internet and mobiles is only a little more than
1 per cent of the population. I am sure there are other
issues endemic to the Indian situation for us to get
our knickers in a twist.
us face it. Spam is very much here to stay. Apparently
about 80 per cent of all Internet mails whizzing around
the world today is spam and, by some accounts, a $10-billion
business (Ferris Research). It is pretty much woven
into the fabric of our modern lives and yet another
last thing corporate chief information officers should
have on their mind ought to be spam it should
figure far down on their priority list (they have invested
enough over the years in spam busting, IP blocking mail
servers, VPNs, blacklist, white list, filtering and
mail client blocking algorithms), especially when we
are still a country with low teledensity, cards, telemarketers
and mobile penetration. All of which need to be ubiquitous
to actually become a genuine worry.
Its offline nemesis direct mail or ''junk mail''
is still not an issue in this country when its
pervasiveness and penetration is dramatically more than
anything that the Internet population will ever represent.
all postmen, milkmen and newspaper boys reach each nook
and cranny of this country. No one has yet complained
about the postman or the veritable deluge of mailers,
flyers, and coupons falling out of newspapers, bills
and almost anything in an envelope or otherwise.
are primarily two forms of spam spam lite,
which is illegal, fraudulent and malicious (like the
email from your ''friendly'' misunderstood general or
minister in Ghana and Nigeria), and spam junk,
which pertains to unsolicited and unwarranted mail.
the proliferation of a few credible third-party databases
(cell users, luxury car owners, frequent flyers, credit
card users), marketers are able to concentrate on those
unfortunate few for everything from greeting cards to
the latest C-class Mercedes Benz.
god forgive you if the credit card agent, bank, travel
agent, local mall or mobile operator has you locked
in as a ''prospect''. In which case the deluge of consumer-solicited
and so-called ''anti-spam'' compliant mailers is truly
a nuisance even though you may have a legitimate
and binding relationship with the concerned entity.
Ultimately it is unwarranted, often unsolicited, of
great nuisance value and still junk.
various self-imposed ''dos and don''ts'' adopted by direct
marketers we have an option to either opt-in or unsubscribe
to email. While ''opt-in'' or ''pull'' based marketing is
the approach in the US, the European Union (EU) takes
a more sanguine opt-out or ''push'' route endorsed by
the Direct Marketers Association (DMA).
the act together
Various acts like Can Spam Act, Anti-Telemarketing ''Do
Not Call Registry'', Spam Act, and Coalition of Email
Service Providers for Permission Marketing are legitimate
movements for and against spam, free speech and protection
of constitutional rights.
it is only now that phone-based telemarketing in a highly
consumerist society like the US has drawn the outrage
of citizens for them to mobilise and push for legislation
to prevent them being spammed by telemarketers.
it is a gradual phase from awareness to annoyance that
we have to traverse. Regretfully (and thankfully) for
many, we in India are still at the low end of the curve.
Before we can endorse a ''do-not-email-me'' type of legislation.
other more pervasive form of spam that I fear is emerging
is ''wireless spam''. While the Indian Cyber Act prevents
PC-to-PC and server-to-PC spamming, there is no law
that prevents PC-to-mobile and mobile-to-mobile text
spamming, the latter being more pervasive and annoying.
The holy trinity of the operator, innovative marketer
and handset vendor is currently driving this phenomenon.
operators grapple with falling net average revenue per
user (Rs 600 pm), increased bandwidth and delivery channels
and handsets have become more ubiquitous and functional.
It is clear that marketers and advertisers see this
as a sure-shot way to reach out in more focused and
targeted ways to their desired profile of customers.
see governments and consumer protection groups as the
proverbial party spoilers, while laws, legislation and
column centimetres by Page 3 celebs are certainly ''disablers''.
Technology stands out as the key driver for spam. Modern-day
bandwidth management will enable spread spectrum operators
to adjust the code space of each channel every 10 milliseconds,
helping them to optimise between voice and data traffic
and also increase ''data'' throughput per second.
voice traffic has reached critical mass, operators are
looking for data and other bandwidth-utilising value
services to get more bang from their bandwidth buck.
Of course, most operators retail bulk SMS to various
short code marketers and media at a premium price for
promotions, loyalty programmes, reminder and alerts,
quizzes, lottery, launches, contests and premium information.
And will look to derive further value from the simple
text-based SMS, let alone advanced counterparts like
MMS and location based services (LBS).
the UK, for example, premium services using opt-in SMS
are 20/25 pence a shot as against 10/12 pence for the
regular SMS, making it a lucrative business. The UK
has over a billion messages a month.
countries are yet to seriously address wireless spam,
as they are still grappling with issues concerning earlier
generation communication technologies, namely the telephone
and the Internet.
recently, Japan (April 2002) and the EU (May 2002) have
put together legislation which covers wireless spam,
both choosing the ''opt-out'' approach for Internet
and cell phone-based advertisements which means
that marketers can continue to send out wireless mail
to you until you object.
Japan, DoCoMo estimates that about 84 per cent of the
950 million messages per day on its network are currently
unsolicited, costing operators $200 million. In the
US, the Wireless Telephone Spam Act (supposedly more
stringent than the Japanese and EU legislation) is being
hotly debated in the Congress as marketers resist being
locked out of what they see as a very lucrative $20
billion mobile commerce market in another year or so.
back home, who has spammed you on the mobile lately?
The producer of Bhoot, your local mall, multiplex,
nightclub, pub, bank or your credit card operator
spamming several times a week with reminders to pay
your bill or EMI or face discontinuance. God be with
you when the income tax department, phone, power and
consumer goods companies get hold of your number.