Not the Kind You Eat


Brad Templeton ponders the 25th anniversary of spam:

"Spam pushes people who would proudly (and correctly) trumpet how we shouldn't blame ISPs for offensive web sites, copyright violations and/or MP3 trading done by downstream customers to suddenly call for blacklisting of all the innocent users at an ISP if a spammer is to be found among them. People who would defend the end-to-end principle of internet design eagerly hunt for mechanisms of centralized control to stop it. Those who would never agree with punishing the innocent to find the guilty in any other field happily advocate it to stop spam. Some conclude even entire nations must be blacklisted from sending E-mail. Onetime defenders of an open net with anonymous participation call for authentication certificates on every E-mail. Former champions of flat-fee unlimited net access who railed against proposals for per-packet internet pricing propose per-message usage fees on E-mail. On USENET, where the idea of canceling another's article to retroactively moderate a group was highly reviled, people now find they couldn't use the net without it. Those who reviled at any attempt to regulate internet traffic by the government loudly petition their legislators for some law, any law it almost seems, against spam."

[Via bOING bOING.]

NEXT: Nonsmoking Paradise

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  1. I think if the RIAA wants to blacklist my ISP for my trading of MP3s (something I don’t do), they should have an absolute right to. If this means that I can’t e-mail, so be it. Or, to carry the analogy more accurately, if they want to block the port that Gnutella or Morpheus or Kazaa uses so that I can’t scarf any of their MP3s and they can’t scarf mine, well, that’s fine.

    Likewise, for my personal e-mail account, I really could care less if I hear from anybody in Brazil or China again, because the signal to noise ratio is so low (I think I’ve had ONE legitimate e-mail from Brazil in 11 years of e-mail) that it just wouldn’t put me out. Those who wish to MAKE MONEY FAST LIKE NOW are free to converse with the citizens of those nations.

    The reason that this shouldn’t bother libertarians is that it’s a voluntary act enforcing a social norm without force. As long as you’re not DDoSing their servers to prevent them from e-mailing anyone who really wants to grow their penis, there’s no force involved. Libertarians should get a little more concerned about spam laws–though their property rights sensors should be as finely tuned as their first amendment sensors. Korea has begun getting the hint, as the Chaebol have found themselves unable to e-mail business contacts in the US and have pressured ISPs to crack down on spammers.

    The reason that spam e-mail should generate concern is that it is theft–theft of your inbox and download expenses (though arguably you could say that by having a public address you’re inviting any and all), and theft of intermediary servers. Spam is never ever sent from a user’s own box–they hijack an innocent server and send the spam from there.

    So there is arguably some room for legislative action on this front in defense of property rights. Where it gets dangerous is if it becomes a new excuse for regulation–which it probably will.

  2. Yep. Boycotts and blacklists are perfectly libertarian solutions to perceived problems, so long as they aren’t backed up by laws. If someone refuses to read mail from anyone who hasn’t filled in a form in triplicate and pledged their firstborn, they’re no different than someone who refuses to answer the phone unless the caller-ID is showing, or who refuses to open the door to anyone who can’t show five forms of picture-ID. It’s their privilege, but they might find themselves leading more isolated a life than they like.

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