Red Light Spim Districts Are Growing

Rhett Pardon
CYBERSPACE – Spim is just spam on another application, but it is multiplying like rabbits.

Unsolicited commercial instant messages, or spim, increased by four times between 2002 and 2003, from 125 million messages to 500 million, according to San Francisco-based Ferris Research Inc.

Ferris estimated that there will be 2 billion spims this year, and a majority of those spims – 70 percent – will involve online porn, according to another study completed by the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif., market research firm.

The pesky spim, found on ICQ and other instant-messaging (IM) systems, floods users with unsolicited advertising, from online porn to penis enlargement drugs to Viagra.

“I expected more privacy and less interference by moderators – one-on-one chat without the hustle, bustle and hassle of heavy traffic and rowdy online banter,” wrote Hank Rose on an online adult board recently. “Instead what I got was an endless array of porn ads of all sorts.”

Spim is competing with spam as the web’s most intrusive kind of communication, particularly since it can present itself without ever being opened.

"In a way, it's more intrusive than email because it pops up," Ferris Research consultant Ben Littauer said. "It's not a worse problem than downloading something from the Internet."

Spim is reaching more Internet users than ever because it is becoming more popular in business environments because it is less burdensome than regular email. It can take long periods of time each day for workers just to clean out e-mails and return them.

According to network software maker IMlogic Inc., there are more than 50 million enterprise users of the public IM networks maintained by AOL, MSN and Yahoo. And Waltham-Mass.-based IMlogic says that IT oversight hasn't kept up with user demand.

In a study two years ago, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research found that 60 percent or more of midsize and large companies use IM, but 90 percent had no formal IT support for it. And mail worms that hijack a user's IM identity to send spam already have been documented.

But some of IM's biggest providers are taking steps to reduce the amount of spim.

ICQ, for example, has created a "reverse list" that shows users who is on their buddy lists. The buddy list allows other users to check the online status of everyone on the list, and enables them to send instant messages to users when they log on.

The reverse buddy list allows users to block unwanted contacts.

But for Rose, who wrote on the adult board, the instant-messaging has left him annoyed by spam’s cunning offspring.

“Email is not so much of a cyber ad assault with the usage of filtering, address blockage, bulk folders and the like,” Rose wrote. “But if you’re in the middle of an intimate conversation and get flooded by penile enhancement queries, then it can make cyber sex life online unlustable.”