NEW YORK - Software makers have spent millions of dollars developing new tools for battling spam, and a new federal anti-spam law went into effect on Jan. 1.
So are our e-mail inboxes any less cluttered?
In the week since the law took effect, spam-filtering company Brightmail flagged 58 percent of incoming e-mail as spam, showing no change from December. And America Online saw a 10 percent jump in spam from overseas. Some experts even believe the new law will actually bury us in even more electronic junk.
‘‘Now we have a green light for what would come to be called ‘legal spam,’ ’’ said Vincent Schiavone, chief executive of ePrivacy Group. By establishing official guidelines for what’s permissible, ‘‘the federal law made unsolicited mail legal but no less unwanted.’’
But notably, many marketers support the law, particularly its nullification of some conflicting state statutes and, in California’s case, tougher measures that would have required a recipient’s permission before sending commercial e-mail.
‘‘Basically it’s a bill of rights for companies that want to send junk e-mail,’’ said John Levine, a board member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail.
‘‘From a marketer’s perspective, you have to think of the long term,’’ said Michael Sippey of Quris, which handles e-mail for Charles Schwab, Blockbuster and others. He said marketers won’t want to forever lose potential customers who get annoyed and opt out.
Nonetheless, Sippey agreed that the law won’t stop spammers from simply moving offshore or further trying to hide their tracks — even if doing so is now illegal.
Some critics of the law point to technology as the solution, though techniques developed so far have failed.
Jonathan Spira, whose Basex analysis firm declared spam the ‘‘Product of the Year’’ for 2003, said spammers have an edge because they merely have to outsmart machines. By contrast, those building the machines have to not only outsmart spammers.
Levine heads a new working group to explore fundamental changes in the e-mail architecture and plans to begin tests as soon as February.
Researchers at Microsoft and elsewhere are studying whether to require small payments to send e-mail, costs that would be prohibitive for spammers who send millions of messages.
But ultimately, the solution may involve neither law nor technology.
Mary Youngblood, abuse team manager at EarthLink, said people need to be more savvy in using e-mail.
Among her tips: Put numbers in the middle of e-mail addresses to make them harder to guess, and use a separate address for online shopping and newsgroup postings.