Spam is unsolicited e-mail sent for the purposes of advertising a product or service, usually to a potential customer that has no relationship with the company at all. Its physical world equivalent is junk mail that comes unsolicited into recipients' mail boxes. Spam is considered a major nuisance by many in the computer world and can even be harmful.
In some cases, e-mail disguised as spam may actually be malicious in nature and not intended to advertise a product or service at all. In theses cases, senders devise a way to make e-mail look like spam in hopes that recipients visit a Web site, where viruses may be downloaded onto their computers. While not true spam, unsolicited e-mails do make malicious intents harder to find.
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The most malicious type of true spam may be that which downloads spyware or adware to a user's computer. In these cases, e-mails may direct users to a particular site where this software is downloaded. Then, the software may cause malfunctions or pop up messages that look very official warning users they need to purchase a certain product to clean up their computers.
Due to the problems that spam has caused, many countries have tried to regulate spam and hold accountable companies who send it. However, in some cases this has run into constitutional challenges, especially in the United States. Due to freedom of speech issues, the outlawing of spam becomes problematic and many laws have been overturned.
Therefore, understanding there would be constitutional challenges to outlawing spam completely, the U.S. Congress has passed legislation that regulates the use of spam. Certain things must be present in any unsolicited e-mails such as: an option to allow recipients to be removed from the mailing list, a physical address and phone number for the company, and other things. The sending of pornographic images is also restricted. Each violation can cost $11,000 US Dollars (USD), making it a very expensive way for businesses to advertise.
The problem many run into with regulating spam is that it may not originate inside the borders of the regulating country. Therefore, finding violators, known as spammers, becomes nearly impossible and prosecuting those people becomes even more problematic. Many may not be traceable and those who are may be in countries where there are very few, or no, anti-spam laws. Therefore, any laws remain only partially effective at best.
To counteract the ineffectiveness of anti-spam laws, the best option may be an e-mail system which filters perceived spam mail. Usually, this is sent to a dedicated folder within the e-mail software. However, this does not totally protect the user because most anti-spam software can unintentionally filter out valid e-mails. Therefore, users must still check the e-mail that is filtered to make sure they are not losing any legitimate e-mails.