Just when you thought you'd put a lid on spam, social networking has created a new email overload problem - "meta email", or email about your email. Inboxes around the country are filling up with messages generated by popular networking sites such as FaceBook, MySpace and LinkedIn.
Some of these are message alerts, others are invitations to join and then there are those from recruiters using the sites to fish for new talent.
None of these is technically spam because the recipients have signed up to the network, but that also means they aren't caught by spam filters or any of the other spam blockers that companies have put in place.
Meta email was hard to avoid, digital trends commentator Steve O'Hear said, because it was an intrinsic part of the social network's business model, which relied upon page impressions and time spent online to sell ads.
Some sites allow you to switch off the alert mechanism - but then you won't know if anyone you want to talk to is trying to reach you.
Even more annoying are invitation emails from someone you may have communicated with once, many years ago. Many sites allow people to import a user's address book and send out mass invites.
"This feels pretty much like regular spam, except they usually come from people you know - even if you don't know them very well," UK-based Mr O'Hear said.
"All users could have email alerts off by default, and the sites could stop offering to spam everybody in a user's email address book. But then that would be against their business model."
Deloitte chief information officer Tim Fleming said that, while spam filters were pretty efficient, they were no match for meta email traffic.
"Trying to block social networking is a bit like trying to block the internet," he said. "If you do that, there will be a backlash. We know our people work long hours and need to attend to their business and social lives, so we let social networking happen - but there are some unfortunate side effects. Every now and then I get the occasional barrage."
One solution is to use multiple addresses. IT consultant Mark Bazant keeps five: one exclusively for use on questionable websites, one for friends, one for colleagues and two for work correspondence.
Mr Bazant said it was a hangover from his days working at an internet service provider, where he spent a lot of time clearing people's overloaded inboxes.
He said the trick was to filter the information you don't want by being selective with which email accounts you actually use. "I use five email addresses and use one exclusively for signing up to websites, because when they send me spam it goes straight into my spam account," he said."But I have the leg-up on most people because I have seen the spam tidal wave first-hand."
Sydney accountant Frank Budai spends 10 minutes or more each day deleting email from his business account.
He said he could not start afresh because the email address was critical to the business. "Mainly, I deal with sites I volunteered to get information from. But looking through the email account and finding what I want is like searching for a needle in a haystack," he said.
Australian Financial Review
© Fairfax Business Media
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