Junk electronic mail ("Spam") is robbing the email medium of its impact. Spam is having serious ramifications for businesses that want to keep in touch with customers who are loath to give out their e-mail addresses for fear of being put on yet another junk-mail list. Ferris Research estimates Spam will cost U.S. businesses more than $10 billion this year in productivity losses and in software and IT-staff time to combat it.

MSN and America Online (AOL) report that 80% of the email that hits their servers is Spam! Last week AOL joined rivals, Microsoft, and Yahoo in forming an alliance "to develop technology to better identify the origins of E-mail, restrict E-mail that hides or changes sender's identity, and eliminate the ability to create fraudulent E-mail accounts in bulk. " The alliance is working with legislators and Internet service providers to coordinate Spam-fighting resources.

Law makers are also mustering their forces to combat spam. Virginia, which has prohibited unsolicited E-mail since 1999, imposed harsher penalties for sending deceptive Spam to or from the state. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said he plans to introduce legislation that would impose stiff penalties, including fines and jail time, on spammers and require that mass E-mail ads be labeled "ADV" in subject lines. The law would provide $ 75 million to the Federal Trade Commission to set up a national registry of E-Mail marketers would be barred from sending unwanted messages to those addresses.

A study by Osterman Research shows how pervasive spam has become. A typical E-mail user receives 59 business-related messages a day and sends out 27. 28% of incoming messages are considered to be Spam, and the average E-mail user spends 37 minutes during a typical workweek dealing with electronic junk mail. E-mail users working without any kind of Spam-blocking technology spend an average of 200 minutes dealing with unsolicited junk messages for every 1,000 E-mail messages received. That's approximately 3-1/2 hours of lost productivity a month. Nearly half of the 196 E-mail users surveyed report that Spam has caused legitimate E-mail messages to be overlooked.