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Prof. Egon Berghout: 'Consequences of spam not always negative'

12 February 2008

For most people it’s become part of their morning ritual – emptying their mailbox of dozens of spam messages. The internet is also bulging with letters of complaint. That’s because removing those mails takes time, and something that takes time but doesn’t produce anything just has to be bad for the economy. Egon Berghout, professor of Information Systems at the University of Groningen, does not agree. ‘The consequences of spam are not just negative ones. And there’s a very simple solution – install a good spam filter.’

According to Berghout, the economic damage caused by spam is exaggerated. ‘Is it really damaging in an economic sense if you have to delete some messages in the morning? It’s a bit like the traffic jam problem. The time that people lose from being stuck in traffic jams is soon made up. The same applies to the time they lose in cleaning up their inbox.’

Huge security industry

A positive effect of spam is the increased amount of time being spent on computer security. Berghout: ‘Spam has been an enormous stimulus for the security industry. Of course it’s a waste of time if you have to keep dealing with unsolicited e-mails, but thanks to spam there’s much more attention being paid to security. It ensures that our systems really are being protected properly.’

Banned

According to Berghout, the main problem with spam is that it’s unethical. ‘The (minor) profit for the spammer is valued more highly than the damage for the receiver. Spam thus is rather like theft, where ten euros for a stolen camera is valued more highly than all the damage caused by forcible entry, including the loss of any photos. It’s thus a good thing that spamming is banned. But that hasn’t stopped it. And this is not the only ban that has had ways found around it. There’s just no escaping it. It’s here to stay as long as it’s to the advantage of a single individual. The problem is simply part of this type of communication.’

Taboo

The success rate of spam is estimated to be 0.005%. That means that for every 100,000 messages sent, only five people ‘bite’. Berghout: ‘Those people may view the spam message as a solution to a problem. There’s still a taboo on certain products, and they’re ideal for spam, for example Viagra and other medicines. Perhaps in these cases spam is even playing a positive role in the democratization of the medications industry.’

Spam free

One solution for a spam-free life is, according to some, to pay for e-mails. After all, people who send spam are taking advantage of the fact that e-mail is free. This is going too far, in Berghout’s opinion. Such a ‘solution’ would cost much more than it would deliver. The best route to a spam-free life is to install a good spam filter. ‘And make sure you’re careful with your e-mail address. That’s half the battle!’

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Egon Berghout (Eindhoven, 1962) is professor of Information Systems at the University of Groningen and an associate partner with advisory bureau M&I/Partners in Amersfoort. Egon Berghout’s specialization is efficiency and effectiveness problems in information provision. He is a board member of the European Conference in the field of evaluating IT and linked with the postdoctoral Controllers degree programme at the University of Groningen and Tilburg University. He studied Information Systems at Tilburg University and gained his PhD from Delft University of Technology.

Information

Prof. E. Berghout, tel. 050 - 363 3721, e-mail: e.w.berghout@rug.nl

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.11 p.m.

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