Daiwa EuroTelcoblog No. 54: Monday, 28th June, 2004 - IP = internet pests
We are all painfully familiar with spam (I spent about 20 minutes dealing with it this morning), and are growing more familiar with SPIM, or instant messaging spam. I have also been a victim of SNAM, social networking spam, wherein people I have never met have asked me to join LinkedIn or Spoke, and then immediately asked for ringing endorsements of them and their visionary work. Another phenomenon witnessed with the rapid rise of blogging could be termed BLAM, or spam over blogs, in which spammers post messages about erectile dysfunction products or Canadian online pharmacies to the comments sections of weblogs. Given the widespread defacement of the virtual environment, it was inevitable that we would see this issue coming to the fore in the VoIP world, particularly as presence functions can offer a great deal of insight into a user's availability, and services increasingly offer close integration with email (e.g., voicemails sent as attachments on emails, etc.). This is probably going to be a growing source of annoyance as VoIP penetration grows, particularly so with the advent of video in consumer services.
US company Qovia (www.qovia.com), a developer of enterprise VoIP monitoring and management products which we wrote about in our coverage of the VON show last September in Boston (see EuroTelcorama No. 2), is set to announce today a patent filing in the US for an application which can detect what it terms Spam over Internet Telephony, or SPIT (I prefer VOM myself, but both are suitably unpleasant to convey contempt). The company's press release rightly observes that a proliferation of SPIT could serve as a disincentive to consumer adoption of VoIP, if the technology comes to be perceived as yet another venue for unsolicited marketing with no opt-out.
This issue again brings to mind questions we explored in EuroTelcorama No. 5 about the potential of closed networks, or so-called "darknets," which allow a small number of users to form an encrypted peer-to-peer network for secure, private communication. The stats are interesting to ponder. Our own internal straw poll suggested that close to 90% of all personal (i.e., excluding business) calling is to persons within the caller's social or family circle. Carphone Warehouse has estimated that 80% of outbound residential calls in the UK go to one of six numbers, and France Telecom recently mentioned at its investor day that 65% of its residential customers don't call more than three numbers on a regular basis. The power of viral marketing is a familiar refrain associated with this phenomenon, and one that we can see being used to great effect with VoIP services, but the nagging question is, does it matter how big the network is, particularly if the critical mass of a network may increase the risk that someone's privacy will be invaded?
We had a brief update last week from one of the developers involved with the WASTE project (https://sourceforge.net/projects/waste/), which is an application supporting 20 - 50 users within one user group, subject to bandwidth and encryption levels. The application, which currently is focused on IM and file sharing, has seen 95,000 downloads since the project was revived last year, and a future version on the drawing board will include voice chat capability. We hope to be able to do a more detailed follow-up on this issue in the near future. Clearly with something like WASTE, the inhibitor to mass adoption may be that it is not a service, a consumer brand or even a business as such, and therefore isn't really on the map for most people. However, the concept behind it - a self-defined, secure, private network free from intrusion - may be something appealing enough to take root as internet users increasingly feel violated by the rise of spam, SPIM, SNAM, BLAM and SPIT. Whether this concept could be product-ized, or would remain as a free project is a big question (law enforcement agencies, the RIAA and others will probably not be happy in any event), but we think the industry probably should consider that it may arise as the new new thing.