Spam. It’s the scourge of the internet yet we just can’t seem to get rid of it. The more sophisticated our defenses get, the more sophisticated the spammers become. The war on spam is the quintessential cat and mouse game.

And right now, it looks like the mouse is staying one step ahead of the cat.

According to a new security report issued by Microsoft, a whopping 97% of all email is spam. This is a higher figure than claimed by other firms but no matter the data source, almost all agree: spam makes up a significant majority of the email that traverses the internet.

Despite progress here and there, such as the 2008 shuttering of a hosting company that was being used to send massive volumes of spam, spammers have adapted and are using techniques old and new alike to get their shady advertisements into our inboxes.

Billions of dollars have been spent trying to defeat spam without luck, obviously, and I think it’s time to ask the question: should we just give up now?

One need only look at the war on crime that nations around the world have fought for decades to see many similarities to the war on spam: lots of money spent, some battles won, an enemy that is smart and most importantly, an enemy that has more profit motive to adapt.

So long as people buy products advertised in spam emails, there will be spammers, just as there will always be organized criminals so long as there’s money to be made in committing various crimes. This isn’t a technology challenge; it’s a human challenge.

Obviously, throwing in the towel on spam doesn’t mean that we won’t have to deal with it. It still makes sense to use cost-effective filtering applications and email marketers will need to contend with deliverability issues, but I do think we should give up on the idea of reducing spam to the point that it’s a non-issue. It just doesn’t make any sense economically.

Personally, I’ve always found that in addition to a reasonably priced spam filter, it’s the common sense techniques that have helped keep me relatively spam free.

As a consumer:

  • Be careful who you give your email address to.
  • Use multiple/disposable accounts if/where appropriate.

As a digital marketer:

  • Double opt-in.
  • Implement simple protocols such as SPF, DomainKeys, etc.
  • Don’t contribute to the clutter by sending too many emails.
  • Educate recipients (i.e. suggest they add you to their safelist).
  • Have a multi-channel strategy so that you’re not overly dependent on email.

By no means are these techniques perfect but I can’t help but think that we’d be a lot better off and a lot richer if we finally dismissed the idealistic notion that we can defeat spam with more technology and greater investments. Sometimes a war is won by choosing not to fight it.

Photo credit: dok1 via Flickr.