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Fighting Growing Onslaught of Spam

Fed up with finding you e-mail inbox full of strange, unsolicited messages every time you log on?

Well, you're not alone, you're one of the growing number of victims of spam, or junk mail.

Try as you might to get rid of it, but clearing out your inbox every day is simply not enough to beat this scourge.

China is expected soon to roll out anti-spam regulations, making it an active part of the international anti-spam community.

"The Ministry of Information Industry (MII) has been drafting rules regulating the sending of e-mail," said Li Yuxiao, head of the China Internet Industry Association Anti-Spam Team.

The ministry is currently collecting responses from other government bodies and relevant industrial associations before it publishes the rules, said Li.

The government is also starting to prepare anti-spam legislation, with "a major breakthrough" expected by the end of this year, he revealed.

China currently lacks any anti-spam rules or legislation. The only reference is made in a rule for Internet information services, unveiled in 2002.

Li explained that China has been slow to take any legislative action to deal with junk e-mail, partly due to concerns that similar rules and laws have proved relatively ineffective in other countries, Li explained.

Spam accounted for 58 percent of all e-mail received in the United States in January 2004, when that nation's anti-spam law came into effect, a 2 percent increase from the previous month."The definition of 'spam' is the key. In the US anti-spam law, as long as users do not reject the mail, it is considered perfectly legal," explained Li.

"That is too tolerant, because many user do not bother to take measures," he noted.

According to Yang Xiaoya, director of the ministry's Internet information security department, the criteria in judging spam ought to include: whether it contains advertising; the ineffectiveness or absence of the sender's mail address; and bulk delivery.

"The Chinese Government has been making careful case studies," Yang said.

Despite these concerns, China ought to step up the pace of its legislative process, stressed Zeng Jianqiu, director of Information Technology Economic Research Centre of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

"China is already one of the major victims of spam, but the government has not attached enough attention to the issue," he complained.

The country's Internet servers are actually facing a greater threat from junk mail than ever before, as China's current lack of anti-spam legislations has made it a major target.

"And we know that US spammers now send junk e-mails to China via servers in China, rather than through servers in the United States.

"As a result, the nation is blamed, on many occasions, as a big spammer, and many IP (Internet protocol) addresses in China are in danger of being shut down," said Li.

The China Internet Industry Association, which Li works for, has been using a "blacklist" to crack down on spammers.

According to Li, all the mail sent from a particular IP address on the association's "blacklist" will be blocked until the spammers abide by China's Internet information service rules.

But "that is far from enough. Without any law, the spammers cannot be punished. We actually feel quite embarrassed when regulating the spammers," he added.

Zeng said that besides law-making, China's involvement in international anti-spam co-operation should be given top priority.

"China lags behind developed countries regarding IT industry regulation by at least a decade. We can learn from many other countries, as they are more experienced in dealing with this problem," he said.

On behalf of China, the association joined the "London Action" announced by the European Union in last February, an anti-spam programme consisting of 25 EU members and 13 Asian countries.

Internet service providers have already invested heavily in the anti-spam campaign, and have achieved some progress, according to Li.

Statistics indicate that the average number of spams received weekly per netizen has dropped, from 9.2 during the first six months of last year to 7.9 percent in the second half of 2004. The percentage of junk e-mail has declined, from 66.67 percent from January to June 2004 to 64.23 percent during the following six months.

However, without legislative backup, service providers may "soon feel unable to fill this bottomless hole," said Li.

The growing popularity of the Internet means that junk e-mail is now a global issue.

Total investment and losses in the global anti-spam campaign is expected to reach US$50 billion this year, of which US companies will contribute more than one-third, according to the latest report from leading global market research firm Ferris.

China, the world's second-biggest victim of spam, is also set to suffer massive losses.

(China Daily April 6, 2005)

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