America: The land of herbal Viagra pitches, offers for graphic teen pornography, and low-interest-mortgage hard sells? That's the global face of the United States, thanks to spam, say Web experts from around the world.
"We are learning what American culture is through spam," said Motohiro Tsuchiya, a professor at the International University of Japan's Center for Global Communication.
Spam, whether from the US or elsewhere, has reached a crisis stage globally, and the world must unite to fight it, according to panelists at a US Federal Trade Commission conference on spam.
Strict Asian Laws
In Japan, 80 per cent of the unwanted email came from other countries, especially the US, Tsuchiya said. The average Japanese Internet user gets between 10 and 30 spam messages each month, he said.
But Americans online get that volume of spam each day, according to ISPs.
Tsuchiya attributed the relatively low level of spam in Japan to federal laws against it, strong technical prevention measures by ISPs, and pure social pressure.
Registering a Web site domain name in Japan required submitting more detailed personal data than in the US, he said. Japanese ISPs also enforced strict antispam policies and used tight filters.
"Spammers don't want to take the risk of legal" repercussions, Tsuchiya said.
They were also shamed out of business in Japan, where community sanctions ruled the conscience, he said.
South Korea's tight antispam laws are driving out spammers, which sometimes come to the US to continue operations, according to Dr Hyu-Bong Chung of the South Korean government's Information Security Agency.
In January, the South Korean government banned spam that was wireless and hurt minors, and forbade harvesting the Web for email addresses from its 40,000 servers.
Sixty per cent of email in South Korea was spam, Chung said. The South Korean government has received more than 17,000 complaints about spam so far this year, he said. That was up astronomically from a mere 254 complaints in 2001.
Europe Has Options
The European Union was crafting antispam regulations that emphasised an opt-in approach. Member states could choose which EU regulations to implement, said Philippe Gérard, a legal and regulatory officer at the Directorate-General Information Society of the European Commission.
A French study found that 84 per cent of spam email in that country was written in English, said Marie Georges of the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, with 8 per cent of unsolicited email messages in Asian languages, and just 7 per cent in French.
Most pornographic spam was written in French, Georges said. French-language porn accounted for 55 per cent of the porn spam in that country, while 42 per cent was written in English.
Forty per cent of spam messages written in English were sales pitches for financial services, which made up just 5 per cent of French spam, according to the study.
But foreign spam may be growing, according to David Crocker, principal of Brandenburg InternetWorking in the US. Spam from Asia and South America increasingly clogs his email inbox.
Several bills already in Congress or soon to be introduced aim to zap the spam epidemic. Most panelists at the three-day conference agrede the solution lay in federal legislation.
However, since the Internet transcended national borders, national laws would barely tackle the problem, chairman of the Global Internet Project, John Patrick, said.
"It's very easy to forget the Internet is global," he said.
Spam worked exactly the same in Burlingame as in Boston.
"We're really kidding ourselves," he said.
New technological tools to beat spam might surprise people and calm the urge to overlegislate, Patrick said.
The market could not regulate this.
Internet gurus warned that wireless spam was the next frontier in the US.
The FTC currently lacks a definitive count on the amount of wireless spam in the U.S.
In Japan, cell phones and personal digital assistants already suffered from the unwanted missives. The Japanese government received 173,000 complaints of wireless spam in 2001, although the number fell to just 74,000 the next year.