Spam culture, part 1: China

I thought I'd kick off my new blog with some thoughts about how different cultures view spam.

This will be the first in a series of posts about spam culture. Today: how China views spam.

It's no secret that Chinese culture is very different in many ways from the culture in

Chinese flag

North America or Europe. Spam is just one example of these huge differences.

Because of the business culture, some of what we'd call "spam" is actually perfectly acceptable to local recipients -- perhaps it's even expected. This results in two types of problem:

  1. If a naive Chinese business wants to start selling to Westerners, it might send unsolicited email, assuming that the recipients will be overjoyed to receive it. While I wouldn't condone it, we should understand that it would be an unconscious action, done out of innocent ignorance.
  2. It also causes a technological problem. How can automatic spam filters accurately decide what's spam and what's email that should go to the inbox? This is one of many reasons why email that I might consider spam should still be delivered to someone's inbox.

(Of course, China isn't a single, homogeneous melting pot, any more than the U.S. or Europe are. So I'm deliberately simplifying and I don't mean to imply there's a single Chinese culture.)

In other words, sender credibility is in the eye of the beholder.

Banks, newspapers, and even local offices of U.S. companies often send unsolicited email in China. But if the sender is recognized, it's not considered to be spam. That poses a challenge for anti-spam technology: how can a solution tell if the recipient recognizes the sender in that way? We'll talk more about spam filtering technology in future blog posts. But, as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: the venerable Financial Times has been known to send unsolicited email in China, but perhaps didn't understand this unwritten rule about being recognized. It's a well-known media brand in the West; not so much in China. So plenty of Chinese recipients treated its email campaigns as spam!  

In future posts in this series, I'll talk about Russia and other former-Soviet states. I'll also talk about the different types of spam content you might find internationally. Let me know if there are other parts of the world that you're interested in.

I want to make this an interactive place: where I can answer questions and cover topics that you suggest. Feel free to add comments and ask Amir!

   When he's not masquerading as an FBI agent, Amir Lev is the CTO, President, and co-founder of Commtouch (NASDAQ:CTCH), an e-mail and Web defense technology provider. MORE...

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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