Spam is e-mail's achilles heel. It's the kind of infuriating side effect that almost, almost outweighs the application's benefits. On a typical day, my in-box at NOW receives 100 to 200 e-mails. At least half of these promise miracle cures for baldness, impotence, bad breath, chronic laziness and your long-suffering bank balance.
Need an extra million dollars quick? Tired of slaving for the man when you could work from home and earn thousands? Hunting for porn involving farm animals? It's all apparently available with just a click of your mouse.
You could write a book in the amount of accumulated time it takes to delete unsolicited ads for Viagra and free sex.
Public e-mail addresses are an obvious magnet for junk mail, but it's free Hotmail accounts that have been hit hardest. The Web-based e-mail service receives more than 1 billion messages each day, many of them unsolicited, with spam senders randomly generating e-mail addresses and sticking @hotmail.com on the end for maximum exposure.
After years of being bombarded, Hotmail is finally doing something to cut down on the amount of spam its users receive. Microsoft, Hotmail's parent company, has started working with spam-blocking company Brightsoft to stop the junk before it hits your in-box. This comes at the same time as legislation in Europe that will make spam illegal by next year.
In Europe, this is big news. Italian Internet users can actually file suits against companies who send them spam, calling the unwanted solicitations a kind of invasion of privacy.
Whether these measures will actually work remains to be seen. Even the most obscure e-mail addresses inevitably end up on spam lists. My home e-mail address, which has never been used to sign up for a newsletter, tip sheet or product registration, held out for more than three years before the spam finally started flooding it last month.
Also, aside from the fact that these random junk e-mails are almost impossible to track -- reply to an address asking to be removed from a list and you're just opening yourself up to more mail -- these junk mail-outs must actually work. No matter how absurd the pitches for miracle weight loss pills and "doctor-approved" hair replacement techniques seem, someone has to be clicking on them to make the whole operation of sending out millions of junk letters worthwhile.
Sadly, there isn't a "no flyers" sign you can post on your mailbox to keep the crap out. Filters are fine and legislation's a nice idea, but don't count on it working. Dealing with spam is increasingly about getting familiar with your delete key.