Spam economics: government role

The Belgian Minister of Economy, Marc Verwilghen, recently announced the efforts the Belgian government would take to restore trust in the Internet as a way of doing business. This includes a directory of trustworthy online shops (e.g. in the travel business), but also some efforts to reduce spam. On the site the following 4 basic rules are described to avoid spam: 1) don’t leave your email address, 2) don’t answer dubious emails, 3) camouflage your email address and 4) protect your computer.

As I said before, I think they forget one important detail, the main reason spam exists: “Don’t be an ass”.

  • Don’t buy your V*agra from people who can’t even spell the drug’s name right

  • If you buy the product that would make you “SCARE PEOPLE WITH YOUR HUGE C*CK”, how exactly is that going to help you?
  • Don’t give money to a perfect stranger who needs you to help recover X million from his father, the recently deceased president of some banana republic.
  • Don’t buy a economics degree on-line, you’re only proving you’re not worth it.

If you try to distill the spammer’s logic into a simple formula, check this:

P$ = [N * (I% * S% * W% * B% * M$)] – (N * E$) – (L% * C% * R$)
P$ = profit, bottom-line

N = number of emails sent (can be millions!)
I% = % of addresses that are valid/correct
S% = % of addresses that are not intercepted by anti-spam software
W% = % of emails to cause the receiver to go visit the website
B% = % of site visitors that actually buy the product
M$ = margin per product sold

E$ = cost of sending 1 email

L% = risk of having legal action taken against you
C% = risk of getting convicted when you’re in court
R$ = average fine you would have to pay

The parameters I%, S% and E$ are defined by technology, and government should not mingle with that. Spam detection technology is a very active line of research and new products and/or services are coming out all the times. Yahoo, Microsoft, IETF, … are trying to reshape email so sending email to 5 million addresses isn’t so darn easy, but again, these issues are technical, we don’t need any minister to tell us or buy us a solution. L%, C% and R$, on the other hand, are very much things that should be dealt with on a national level: law-making and law-enforcing. But I doubt if many of the big spammers are Belgian, so there is little the Belgian government can do about that.

The main focus of this country should be focused on reducing W% (website conversion) and B% (buyer conversion), the ‘naivite’ parameters, and the weapon of choice there is education. The Belgian federal agency Fedict has already done a fine job by launching, a consumer-oriented portal on PC security with some good advise on spam-mail (Dutch). But to reach Average Joe and Jane, they should use TV and radio. I would like to see an entertaining program on internet security that teaches people the PC security basics and that has humoristic sketches like In De Gloria. I would like to hear a program on Internet crime in the Sample Minds style.

If someone drives a gasoline car and fills it with diesel/fuel, he will be made fun of, because you’re supposed to know these things when you have a car. The same should happen with someone who lost money in an on-line scam. Invest $500 and get $50.000 from a dyslexic Russian dude who won’t disclose anything but a Hotmail address? Come on, you fell for that one?


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