With an arsenal of new laws, campaigns and technologies failing to stop spammers from sending a seemingly endless flow of unsolicited commercial e-mail, the Internet industry is finally turning to a little-acknowledged culprit to stem the tide -- consumers.
"Stop responding to spam" is the message behind a new consumer awareness campaign launched Friday by Australia's Internet Industry Association (IIA). The campaign is being supported by leading Internet players including Microsoft, Yahoo, America Online (AOL) and a number of international consumer and privacy organizations.
Their goal is to raise awareness among consumers that by buying goods from spammers they are helping to feed the problem.
"Only a fairly small number of people need to respond to spam to make it worth the spammers' time," said Kaye Stearman, a spokeswoman for Consumers International in the U.K., which is supporting the campaign.
"You only need a tiny, tiny response because the costs of spending spam is minimal," Stearman said.
The awareness campaign is one of the first to focus on consumers as contributors to the problem of unsolicited commercial e-mail, which has been steadily on the rise, sparking widespread frustration among e-mail users and Internet service providers (ISPs) alike.
In fact, the problem has become so serious California Governor Gray Davis signed a law earlier this week banning anyone from sending unsolicited commercial e-mail to Californians' e-mail addresses.
The antispam effort in California follows a number of other regulations and technologies adopted worldwide in the hope of reducing the amount of spam landing in in-boxes.
Major e-mail providers, like Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, have expressed serious concern over the spam plague. All three have introduced tougher spam filters in recent months in an effort to purge user in-boxes of the e-mail menace, as well as to protect their own overwhelmed servers.
With the new consumer campaign, the e-mail providers and consumer groups hope that users themselves will become more savvy about the role they play in stopping spam. The IIA is promoting a "don't buy and don't reply" approach, noting that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has estimated that over 70 percent of spam is fraudulent, misleading or deceptive.
To provide more information, the group will launch a Web site.