Living with the internet: Keeping it safe
Living with the internet: Keeping it safe

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Living with the internet: Keeping it safe

7 Spam

7.1 What is it?

Spam is unsolicited commercial electronic messaging. It can be used to advertise a product, or it could be a hoax message designed to mislead.

No one is sure where the name came from (some say it's from the Monty Python sketch in which a group of Vikings in a cafe sing the merits of that particular brand of tinned ham, and no matter what customers ordered they always got spam).

Spam mail is similar to the mail that drops through your home letterbox from finance companies and others – unwanted mail encouraging you to part with your money, for example by buying a product or taking out a loan. This paper mail is subject to legislation, so the range of services or products offered is tightly controlled.

The equivalent legislation does not exist in the electronic world, although some has been introduced recently. In the US, the 'Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing' (CAN-SPAM) federal law took effect on 1 January 2004, and the EU 'Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications' was required to be implemented by member states by 31 October 2003 (in the UK the revised rules came into force on 11 December 2003).

This legislation is intended to reduce or control the amount of spam mail. But as you may imagine, this is turning out to be a very difficult task because the Internet has no borders. Spam can be sent from one country to another, and those countries that do have legislation will find it hard to enforce their rules in countries that don't.

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