Evil Spam

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Here's a long article on the escalating spam wars. Says the volume of spam has doubled in the last six months, and now makes up 40 percent of e-mail traffic.

"We're seeing a slow degradation of the medium," said Jason Catlett, a computer scientist and founder of Junkbusters Corp., an anti-spam and privacy advocacy group. "Many people don't get on the Internet or abandon it because they don't like the trash that they see." …

Marketers now say that while they prefer technological solutions, a national law would be helpful and more effective than a patchwork of state regulations that vary in strength and approach.

Microsoft, AOL, Verizon Communications Inc., EarthLink and other Internet providers also are aggressively pushing for national legislation…

"Consumers are choking on spam, and it is clogging the arteries of the Internet," [the U.S. Commerce Department's Bruce P. Mehlmanhe] said. "Personally, I believe we need to find ways to help consumers protect themselves . . . provided they would be effective, have minimal impact on innovation and preserve consumer choice. The best anti-spam solutions may well be technologically based and market-driven."

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  1. I like that. The only reason there are spammers is that it’s so incredibly cheap. One hit in a thousand makes their day.

  2. Jim and Lefty:

    I agree. Although spam is annoying, I don’t see any difference between it and junk mail. It’s not “trespass” to send you something you don’t want. I’d rather click the “empty” button on my hotmail junk mail box than have the damned jackboots get involved.

    And as someone recently pointed out, spam has the benefit of drastically increasing the noise to signal ratio and the overall volume of internet traffic, making the TIA’s job even more unmanageable.

  3. Omnibus:

    What kind of jackboot? I hope you’re not putting rat cages on people’s heads in Room 101. My dad was actually a cop, in a town of 15,000, back in the days before black uniforms and SWAT teams became universal and the cops started looking on the local population as an occupied enemy. Even in a free society of federated mutual defense associations, a lot of things will still have to be done pretty much the same; so if you’re not helping LAPD Ramparts plant guns or taking apart dissidents with a pair of bolt-cutters, go in peace with my blessing.

    As for the free rider problem, I tend to agree with the Austrians that efforts to cure it through state coercion are worse than the disease. Benjamin Tucker argued a century ago that it was better to let free riders collect some unearned benefits than to empower the state to stop them. Same reason he opposed Georgist solutions to economic rent. But short of statism, I’m open to just about any attempt to internalize costs and let the market do the job.

    I don’t know about the tomato example, though. Non-excludability is a little bit different from outright theft.

  4. I have very little trouble with spam, because I use email clients that make it very easy to block addresses (Outlook Express and Hotmail). That said, there is one EXTREMELY annoying circumstance where this doesn’t work: occasionally I get spam with no return address, and therefore I can’t block it. That particular circumstance needs to end, whether by technology or by law, I don’t care. Otherwise, no regulation is needed, just a good mail client.

  5. have these folks ever noticed that their keyboard comes with a delete key?

  6. Great! I’ll be sure to sign you up for several marketing lists. After all, you can just delete them, right?

    You don’t seem to get that you’re paying for it, and you’re going to be paying more for it–all to advertise fraudulent stuff that no reputable company would promote. And no reputable company engages in it, either.

    Yes, postal rates are lower because of the marketing mail that makes up over 50% of the mail you receive. However, in e-mail, YOU pay for the bandwidth used and the storage space to keep all this stuff (that’s used long before you have a chance to “delete”). You pay for it directly through metered dialup or indirectly through increasing flat rates.

    I hope you’ll come out against the junk fax law as well. After all, don’t you have a waste basket? And I’d be happy if you paid me to come into your living room and shout commercial slogans at you. After all, you have earplugs, right?

  7. I think part of the problem with spam is that the “help” provided by the email providers is lame at best. Suggestions for improvement: being able to block an address without opening the email first; being able to see the sender’s address by “hovering” over the subject line (so I know if “Chris” is my friend Chris or a spammer); having the sender address appear in the inbox instead of nicknames (no “Chris” at all, just a full address). Also, on my Yahoo account, I can filter messages to any folder EXCEPT the “trash” folder, which is exactly where I would want them to go. That should be changed.

    Small technological reforms like those I mentioned wouldn’t make spam go away, but they would make it less annoying and make it less likely that we would open a spam without realizing it.

  8. Sorry, in my last post I should have said on my Yahoo account I can filter to “trash” but would I would want to do is filter to “bulk” so I can take a quick look at them before deleting. Anyway, the best thing would be for spammers not to send these in the first place, so I look forward to some national legislation.

  9. Sorry, in my last post I should have said that on Yahoo I can filter to “trash” but I would want to filter to “bulk” where I can review them quickly before deleting. Anyway, the best thing would be to not get spam in the first place, so I look forward to national legislation.

  10. “have these folks ever noticed that their keyboard comes with a delete key?”

    Yeah! And these are the same folks who have the NERVE to get angry when their neighbor’s dog shits in their back yard. I mean, have these folks ever noticed the invention of the shovel, or the garbage bag?

  11. but my delete key hasn’t been working since the power went out…

    ūüôā

    drf

    (dammit, the monty python “spam, spam, spam, spam” sketch is going through my head. sigh. at least the voices are in english, this time)

  12. I’d love to see spam come through with a real address, instead of some fake B.S. address that doesn’t really exist.

    Also, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that when you go to be removed from a list, yuour address is captured and used for more spam.

    That said, I’m not confident that ANOTHER government regulation is the answer. Seems like much of this would fall under mail fraud.

  13. For those of you looking to filter spam manually, try a neat little program called Mail Washer. It also catches some viruses: http://www.mailwasher.net/.

  14. Please, no more laws. There’s plenty of solutions now and there will be more soon.

    I would prefer that congress work on balancing the budget and come back to this, say, in 10 years and see how we’re doing.

  15. In electrical engineering we learnt that noise should be suppressed as closely as posssible to the source.

    The can be applied to spam as well.

    I order to get rid of spam some micropayments could be introduced. Micropayments are a nusance to the end user and will seriuously decrease thr usabulity of a service. I therefore propose a micropayment only between service providers. That would give them a strong incentive to stop spammers.

    Introducing a delay say (500 sec) in the transmission could help in identifying spam and also provide means to stop they very first spam mail in a batch.

    I delay (proportional to the number of recipients) between each transmission from the same sender would also effectively reduce the power of the spam.

    Peter

  16. An interesting solution to the spam problem has
    been proposed here:

    http://www.techcentralstation.com/1051/techwrapper.jsp?PID=1051-250&CID=1051-071102C

    and here:

    http://www.techcentralstation.com/1051/techwrapper.jsp?PID=1051-250&CID=1051-080802A

    The idea is to set things up so that an email user can reject all incoming mail that doesn’t meet one of two criteria: 1) the sender is on the user’s list of acceptable senders, or 2) the sender has made a suitable payment to the user in digital cash. (The payment could be refunded if the user wishes.)

  17. I agree that spam is annoying and better means should be pursued to eliminate it, but I have a problem with the notion that it is somehow tresspass, similar to someone shouting commercials at you in your living room (as one post above put it). Email (and phone service, for that matter) is a service you voluntarily agree to recieve by ordering it and paying for it. If it is known that marketers will use such services to try to contact you and you still elect to have the service for what other benefits it provides you, then that is your choice.

    I think the best solutions will be found by technological approaches driven by the free market. Elevating the status of this issue to a private property rights violation mandates state action, and anything they do will be one-sided, limited in scope (thus ruling out a multiplicity of solutions that serve individual needs better) and possibly infringing on constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech.

    I have a suggestion that works on an individual basis: how about an email service (or a phone service) that charges for incoming messages? a ‘micropayment’ that requires anyone not in your whitelist to pay you if they want your attention? It could perhaps work using paypal or something similar, and could be implemented unilaterally, without the need for government mandates or a change to the infrastructure of the internet. All messages are bounced back to the sender, who must then access a web site, make a payment to your account then they recieve a one-use code that goes into the subject line. The service emails you the code (they’re on your whitelist) and the sender can resend to you whereapon your email program would recognize the code and download the mail. Maybe somebody’s already working on something like this.

  18. I’ve wondered about spam for years. I don’t understand how people get so much spam that the inconvenience is enough to prompt a call for a legislative remedy.

    If I got 50 junk emails a day, I’d probably be frustrated too, but I don’t. I may get as many as 2 or 3 junk emails a *month*.

    My internet service is through Mediacom. I buy books, software, embroidery supplies and trading cards over the internet. I register all of my software. I have a vanity website, it’s not much, and it’s not really maintained, but Google can find it, and my email address is there, so presumably bots can find it, too. I do not use ANY email filtering software. I have been online for ten years, and have only had three different email addresses that entire time.

    What am I doing differently that you guys get so much junk mail and I don’t?

  19. Rhywun, you still pay for the stuff you don’t see. Deleting it at your end does nothing to solve the problem. And my mail client filters better than yours (Bayesian filters), but some will always get through–increasing numbers, too.

    Actually spam has been ruled a “tresspass on chattles,” an old term which basically means you’re using my property without my permission, denying me use of it. They key difference with junk mail is that the receiver pays, not the sender.

    The problem with micropayment systems is a) the incredible cost overhead, and b) spammers don’t use legitimate addresses–they send by hijaking other people’s servers and using them to send the mail. So all you’d be doing is further victimizing a third party (some argue they should pay for maintaining an attractive nuisance).

    The best current technological solution is to simply deny access from mailservers in China, South Korea, Russia, and Brazil. Since most administrators don’t have users that do business in those countries, and servers in those countries make up the vast majority of spam, this is the most effective solution with *current* technology. If many, not even most, mailservers do this, it will take away a lot of the economic advantage of spamming and will also cause a little consciousness-raising in those export-dependent countries. It won’t eliminate it, but it will reduce it.

    The next most feasible one is to upgrade all mailservers to require a valid address automatically before receipt. This requires only a (relatively) small change in the current system. However like all such solutions a) it is vulnerable to spoofing, and b) requires even heavier cooperation than the previous suggestion. All systems beyond it, such as micropayments (though good in theory) require increasing levels of cooperation to work, and thus are pretty unlikely to happen in sooner than 5-10 years, or basically 3-5 generations in Internet time (yes, it’s still fast despite the dot-com bust).

    The only approach that is feasible legislatively is to be given leeway to go after the fradulent companies that pay for the spam to be sent. Many more of them exist right here in the good ol’ US of A. Let the telcos sue ’em–that ought to end them, by, say, Thursday, if that works for you?

  20. EMAIL: draime2000@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://www.enlargement-for-penis.com
    DATE: 01/26/2004 06:27:35
    Some nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

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