The spam divide

In rich countries, unsolicited e-mail, or spam, is a nuisance, but in poorer countries, it is a threat to development, says Foreign Policy contributor Elisabeth Eaves.

According to a report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), spam will not stop the development of information technology, but it will severely retard it.

In developing nations, bandwidth is expensive and connection speeds are often so slow that spammers can bring a nation's network down – or reduce it to a snail's pace – by flooding inboxes. Since local Internet service providers lack the software or a trained staff, they can do little to fix the problem. Moreover, the impact of spam on developing countries is difficult to determine and pin down with a dollar figure, says Eaves.

So, how can developing nations stop the flood? They can:

  • Implement software based on free operating systems such as Linux, since they can immediately stop as much as 50 percent of poor-country spam.

  • Create Computer Security and Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs) or Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and train personnel in security and spam handling.

  • Develop and enforce anti-spam policies and establish relationships with other countries to fight spam and address other Internet issues.

    The OECD recommends that these methods should be employed quickly, because bridging the digital divide is useless if what lies on the other side is a pile of junk mail.

    Source: Elisabeth Eaves, Spam Divide, Foreign Policy, September/October 2005; based upon: Suresh Ramasubramanian, Spam Issues in Developing Countries, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, May 26, 2005.

    For text:

    For OECD report:

    For more on International: Growth and Technology:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 20 September 2005
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