Push or pull?

By Tim Belfall, COO, OpenHand Mobile.

To put it mildly spam is irritating. It's annoying. Frustrating. And a huge waste of valuable time and resources. On occasion, when it carries malware, spam also presents a major threat to information systems. 

But for anyone who accesses their email from a mobile device, all this is made so much worse by the fact that you often end up paying for it as well. 

Most large organizations have adopted some form of anti-spam technology - either through foresight or bitter experience - and these can be expected to reduce the amount of spam that reaches the inbox by approximately 95 per cent. 

But as the growth of mobile email continues on its upward trajectory the issue of spam has once more become acute. 

Most users of mobile email use some form of technology to access their existing account. Consequently their devices are subjected to all the mail, including the spam, that their 'wired' account receives.   

Push technology 

For those users with 'push' technology the email is sent to the device regardless of whether the user wants it or not.  And all sent email has to be paid for, which can rack up substantial data costs, particularly as spam often contains attachments, HTML text and embedded URLs, all of which push up the bills. 

Of course, this problem doesn't just apply to spam that is sent maliciously, or to junk mail from hopeful, but legitimate, marketing companies. 

The 'cc' option on email can be the scourge of the mobile inbox, containing information that might, possibly, be needed at a later stage, but doesn’t require an immediate response - or indeed any  response at all.   

While there is obvious value in making sure that everyone is kept informed, paying for lengthy email chains to be downloaded while on the move can be expensive and unnecessary. 

According to research carried out by Nucleus Research, the average person spent 15 minutes a day dealing with spam in 2004 - up from seven minutes per day in 2003. As the sheer volume of spam that is sent continues to grow, those figures can only go up with them.

The problem is that, with 'push' mobile email, the time spent on spam is the same whether you're on the move or at your desk.   

All of which negates one of the big advantages that mobile email offers - and the primary reason that many busy executives have adopted it. Mobile email enhances productivity and efficiency and enables users to make the best use of their time wherever they are.   

The dead time that is the inevitable consequence of business travel can be filled with useful activity. 

But if that time is consumed with managing unsolicited junk, then the benefits are soon lost, which makes the time-wasting aspect of spam particularly problematic when it comes to mobile devices.  

Furthermore, spam on mobile devices can violate basic good business manners.  No-one wants to sit in a meeting with a PDA beeping every five minutes because a new email has arrived. Yet this is what can happen with mobile email. 

Finally, wireless devices, those distant outputs of the corporate infrastructure are still something of a wild frontier in terms of enterprise security. 

Combined with spam-borne viruses and other similar security threats they can present a serious weakness in the company's security measures.

While organizations are coming to grips with the security implications of widespread mobile use, they also need to consider how they wish their executives to receive mobile email. 

Pull technology 

Which is where pull technology comes into its own. Unlike push technology, pull enables the user to choose which emails they want to receive, and in so doing can minimize all the problems associated with this kind of mobile spam.

It enables users to retain control over their email, and reject anything that looks suspicious, or unnecessary. 

As spam continues on its insidious path, users should consider the benefits of both pull and push technology, and ensure they can choose the most appropriate method for their individual circumstances.

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