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Will The Spam Never End?

This post has been archived. It's probably out of date or shameful in some other way.

We all know it, and know it well. Some of us are inundated with it, and most of us agree something needs to be done about it. More often than not, measures to prevent spam are unactionable because of the effect they would have on perfectly legitimate business email.

Not only that, things are getting harder for ISPs. Even the ones that do care about spam (and some are quite happy for their users to do what they want) do not always act quickly, or sometimes at all, so stop it. After all, who wants to go out of their way to lose a paying customer? Not a lot of people, that's who.

Let's start with a few examples...

Example 1 - Spamming Scum

Internet pond life, the Spamming Scum posts indiscriminately to as many addresses as possible, getting those from wherever he can. His income comes from a very low percentage of clicks from the emails, and his investment is minimal. He'll often disguise the email, normally at least hiding his real email address, and where the email has come from. He'll try and get around spam filters, and will often succeed.

Example 2 - E-Mail Businessman

The email businessman is a fair bit better than the Spamming Scum. He also relies on clicks from email to make his money, and won't hide his own details from recipients. He will honour unsubscribe requests. And he'll normally be the kind of person who goes to the trouble of buying a verifiable targetted list of emails from a company that hasn't just scraped them off the net. Despite this, he's usually treated the same was as the Spamming Scum.

Example 3 - New Business

A new business (as said elsewhere) may often want to let other businesses (or people) locally know about their services, and so may email as many of both as they can (that may be interested, anyway).

Example 4 - Average Joe

As site owners, most of us get personal emails from our users, some of them selling something. Many site users may visit a site and then realise we might actually be interested in their product - and email us. As mentioned in [url=]another thread[/url], sometimes it's welcome.

In deciding what to do about spam, we first need to determine what spam is. By most definitions, all of the above are spam. They are "unsolicted commercial email". But I think most of us can agree that while spam is not welcome, it's the quantity of pure rubbish spam that's the real problem. Most of us would probably agree that it's the first (and some of us, the second) group that we want stopped, and not just stopped - hung, drawn and quartered.

In a perfect world, I would be happy for other companies to email my business address offering relevant products that I might be interested in. If my mailbox wasn't filled with garbage (not that it is anymore, see [url=]Bayesian Spam Filter[/url] thread), then I would probably actually read most of it. If it was targetted, and I wasn't swamped, that is.

Most people agree that they know spam when they see it, but it's hard to come up with a catch-all definition that covers the mail we don't want and doesn't include the mail we do. Spam is always unsolicited, but not all unsolicited mail is spam. Spam is almost always commercial, but not al commercial mail is spam. Spam is always sent in bulk, but not all mail send in bulk is spam.

With that in mind, I'd like to see any sort of legislation passed to be something that seriously nailed the Spamming Scum (huge fines, slow torture) and was very clear on who, exactly, fell into that category. I'd like to see a fine so massive that any of the Email businessmen were very very very careful with their own mailings, and made damn sure that they didn't cross the line between legitimate business practice and just annoying people who don't want bigger breasts or to take a share of ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SIX MILLION DOLLARS ($126,000,000). The kind of fine that would be enough to make sure any businesses that were new in an area were also very careful with the addresses they were mailing.

I like the idea bragadocchio mentioned on [url=]this thread[/url], about all commercial email having to be marked with ADV: at the beginning. It seems to make sense. If nothing else, then all commercial email can actualy be dealt with by a company on a weekly or monthly basis (after all, it's the sheer cost in time that bothers most of us). Users who don't want anything from anyone, no matter how good the offer, can filter out all advertising from their mail easily.

Unfortunately, these ideas just aren't going to be any use. One law passed in one country is no help against spammers in another, where they can operate unhindered. Closing all open email relays on the net might be a good start, but that won't solve the problem. And some relays are open for good reason. Making ISPs more responsible for their members might be a good idea. ISPs faced with a huge fine for any spam coming out of their network, whether or not it originated there, would very likely adopt a much stricter policy with email and be much more careful, but with so many spammers in so many countries, and so many ISPs who would be untouchable, spam wouldn't stop - it would just start somewhere else. Most spammers also disguise their location and email addresses, and while a lot of us know how to see through that, many people will just report any address they see on an email - often an innocent party - who may then find themselves kicked off their ISP, especially if the ISP was facing a fine. most ISPs would not take the time to find out if a customer was innocent before acting.

An interesting proposal is outlined [url=]here[/url], but has flaws. The biggest of which is the one that comes up time and time again - whatever legislation is passed and however spam is defined, spammers can operate from any country in the world. Short of refusing to accept email from a country with no enforced anti-spam laws, nothing can be done to stop them. It looks like spam is here to stay.