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Junk-email "bots" costing NZ sites money
Copyright © 1998 to Bruce Simpson, syndication rights available
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6 Apr 1998

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There was a time when junk emailers could get all the email addresses they wanted simply by scanning the Internet's many newsgroups but those days are gone so now they're scanning your web site in search of your email address.

Since most Net users wised up and stopped using their real email addresses in Internet newsgroups, junk mailers have changed their techniques for rounding up active email addresses. They are now making heavy use of robot programs that troll the Web looking for email addresses embedded in web pages through the use of "mailto" tags.

While this has little effect on sites hosted in the USA, it does represent a growing cost to sites hosted here New Zealand.

Most New Zealand Web hosting is performed on a "per megabyte" basis and while the cost of local traffic is quite low, most companies and individuals are paying up to $1 per megabyte for pages which are sent off-shore.

IDG today carries a story revealing just how this problem is affecting at least one local site. The costs of sending pages off-shore in response to the robots' requests are just the start of the problem. The greater cost is that associated with handling the junk mail which starts arriving shortly afterwards.

As with Web traffic, many NZers are paying on a pro-rata basis for their email access - either by time or by volume. Even with the sophisticated junk mail filtering built into the latest email programs, Net users are still faced with the cost of downloading an increasing amount of unwanted and untargeted commercial solicitations sent mainly from the USA.

Some states in the US have already drafted or passed anti-junk-mail laws but because of the problems associated with cross-border enforcement there are doubts that this will have any affect on the levels of such email arriving in New Zealand. Indeed - it could even see an increase in this problem at a local level as junk mailers are forced to shift their attentions away from the USA itself.

An increasing number of Web site operators are now moving away from embedded email addresses on their Web pages and are instead offering a forms-based contact mechanism. This is an effective way of hiding the email addresses associated with a Web site and keeping the cost of dealing with unwanted junk to a minimum.

Readers are also reminded that they can forward copies of all junk email originating from the USA to the email address uce@ftc.gov or, if it's a chain letter or pyramid scheme, pyramid@ftc.gov. The US government is becoming increasingly vigilant about responding to reports of illegal scams when notification is provided through these addresses.

Those interested can find more information on dealing with the problem of unsolicited commercial email at The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email web site.

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