Very few elements of modern technology have a name sourced from 1970s British comedy, but spam is an exception.
14 April 2016
"Lovely spam, wonderful spam!"; so goes the song from Monty Python's famous "Spam" sketch, but such sentiments are seldom held for the spam we are familiar with today. It was that very sketch, in which the word spam is used more than 180 times in the space of three minutes, that inspired the name for a bombardment of unsolicited content on the internet; spam.
In the early days of the internet, spamming was used to annoy and frustrate users. Spammers would send large blocks of meaningless text, often containing the word spam repeated over and over, usually with the intention of driving other users from chat rooms. Spam then took on a much more commercial form, based on the principle that flooding the internet with advertising messages is profitable even if only a tiny percentage of recipients make a purchase.
While a Monty Python sketch may explain the origin of the name, it doesn't shed light on where spam comes from today. According to a recent report by software security company Kaspersky, on spam activity in 2015, 15.2 per cent of the world's spam originates from the US, making it the largest producer of spam in the world. Russia, Vietnam and China make up the top four, but with numbers much lower than the US at 6.2 per cent and 6.1 per cent each, respectively.
Kaspersky's research also found that while the volume of spam emails in 2015 decreased by 11.5 per cent from 2014, spam still represents more than half of global email traffic. Here in Australia, a recent report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that spam complaints and reports in February 2016 reached 44,203. This is the highest number of monthly spam complaints since January 2013. On a global scale, Kaspersky found that Australia was the target of 3.1 per cent of the world's spam.
To combat spam, Australia introduced the Spam Act in 2003. The Spam Act 2003 (the Act) prohibits the sending of ‘unsolicited commercial electronic messages’ with an 'Australian link'. A message has an Australian link if it originates from, or was commissioned in Australia, or originates overseas but the computer, server or device that is used to access the message is located in Australia.
The Act covers email, mobile phone text messages (SMS), multimedia messaging (MMS), instant messaging (IM), and other electronic messages of a commercial nature. However, the Act does not cover voice or fax telemarketing. Telemarketing calls and faxes are covered by the Do Not Call Register Act 2006.
Unlike its canned namesake, spam is ever adapting. While overall global numbers may be decreasing, spammers are always looking for new avenues to push their content.