Worldwide Nuisance Spam Turns 30

Today marks 30 years since the birth of that never-ending electronic mail everyone loathes to see in their inbox. Originally called flooding or trashing, spam has grown from a 1978 mass e-mail to a 2008 worldwide nuisance.

The man who holds the title of first spammer, Gary Thuerk, sent the mass mailing via the Arpanet to advertise a new system his company, Digital Electronics Corporation (DEC), was premiering at the time.

The Arpanet, which would later become known as the Internet, was a fairly new U.S. government-run network that provided messaging similar to e-mail for government agencies, companies and large universities. The innovative technology promised to build a brand new network that could connect millions of people.

Still, when the first spam message was sent to more than 350 people, there was an overwhelmingly negative reaction not so different from the reaction spam receives today.

It doesn't take a Google search to find out that people are frustrated with spam, especially messages that include inappropriate and offensive material.

"Spam is one of the reasons people cite for leaving regular email," Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says on his personal Web site.

It is estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of all inboxes are clogged by junk mail, and 120 billion messages are sent each day. Because of that, many people are beginning to choose alternative spam-free messaging sources such as the hugely popular social network Facebook, which currently has more than 60 million members worldwide.

So what can you do to prevent spam in your online mailbox? Proposed solutions include filters, spam-banning laws and opt-out lists.

But filters, for example are not completely successful. Spam can't always be identified as messages sent in bulk, so filters have to detect common patterns to discard the junk mail.

Another roadblock is that spam crosses the continents, making it complicated to take legal action.

"If further efforts are done to globally introduce other strict measures, then spam could potentially be controlled to a certain extent," Mark Cilia Vincenti founder of said.

Despite the obstacles, the anti-spam business is booming. Researchers estimate the cost of fighting spam globally in 2008 will be $140 billion.

So don't get rid of your junk box quite yet. Spam, having survived for 30 years, is likely to survive 30 more.