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 spamsquad.be 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.

SPAM ECONOMICS
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$)
where
P$ = 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.

SPAM-EDUTAINMENT
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 peeceefobie.be, 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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