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Mainsleaze

In my pre-blogging days, I was a bit of an anti-spam activist.

Well, that's not really accurate. I was an anti-spam wannabe.

I followed the fight, cheered on those who actually did stuff, and grumbled and bitched a lot to myself. But I did adopt the attitude towards spam that I hold today -- it's appalling.

One of my biggest bitches at Congress has to have been their almost-criminally-misnamed "CAN SPAM Act." This legalized the "opt-out" model of spamming -- the idea that you can send someone as much spam as you like until they ask you nicely to stop it.

My favorite analogy to the "opt-out" model was this: "Congratulations! You've just won a free membersship in the punch-in-the-nose club! As a member, you are entitled to have one of our goons come by once a day and punch you in the nose. Should you wish to unsubscribe on this service, e-mail us and we will remove you from our lists. (Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for your request to be honored."

To my small-l libertarian way of thinking, "opt-out" is morally reprehensible. The most fundamental right of any human being ought to be to be left alone. In my ideal world, one would never be put on any mailing list that one had not requested to be on.

I'm willing to bend a little, though. I can live with the "one free bite of the apple" model -- "Hi there! We think you'd like to be a part of our mailing list. If you'd like to keep receiving our e-mails, just respond and we'll put you on the list. If we don't hear from you, then you won't ever hear from us again."

But the opt-out model... that's just not sustainable. The last number I saw said that over 95% of all e-mails are spam. This morning, I downloaded 48 e-mails that arrived at my Wizbang account in the last eight hours -- and 47 were spam. It's rapidly approaching the point where spam will make e-mail utterly useless.

But it's not the scam artists and con men that are the worst. It's what the anti-spam crowd used to call "mainsleaze" spammers -- big companies that really ought to know better, that ought to behave themselves. When they engage in spamming, then they lower the bar across the board and make it easier for everyone else to participate.

A lot of people compare spam to regular junk mail. That comparison fails on two points.

First, junk mail is self-regulating. The more you send, the more you pay. With spam, it costs pretty much the same to send one as it is to send 100 million.

Secondly, the real costs are shifted on the recipient and the carriers. While it costs the sender the same to send 100 million as to send one, it costs the companies that carry the e-mail more in bandwidth costs. And it costs me, too -- I pay for my internet connection and my computer, and when spammers use my bandwidth and my computer for their advertising, they are doing so without my consent.

Right now, among all the Nigerian scams and penis enlargement and herbal remedies and sex solicitations and pirated software, I'm getting almost daily e-mails from two organizations that have apparently either hired spammers or set up an affiliate program that is open to spammers. Two companies that really ought to know better:

Kaplan University and Gevalia Coffee.

Hell, I don't even DRINK coffee, but it seems every day Gevalia wants me to buy a 12 cup stainless steel coffeemaker carafe. The only use I'd have for such a device would be to beat to death the asshole who put my e-mail address on their list.

To be strictly fair, I don't get the e-mails from Kaplan and Gevalia. Instead, they come from alleninfoXXX.info, where "XXX" is a number that changes (the last batch was 013). And a quick and dirty check says that this is a Chinese company.

But while they aren't doing the spamming, it's indisputable that they are the beneficiaries of it. If they weren't rewarding the spammers in some way, then the spammers wouldn't be spamming.

So, Kaplan and Gevalia. Why are you paying these spammers? And do you really think that the benefits you get from this spamming outweighs the sheer number of people you piss off?

Speaking strictly for myself, I would never give either Kaplan or Gevalia a single penny of my money, and I'd recommend anyone considering doing the same to look at their marketing methods -- both their own and those they choose with whom they have chosen to affiliate.

We've tried so many other ways to fight spam, and the result has always been the same: more and more spam. I think the only way left to cut it back (I don't even dare dream about it ending) is to get some of the money out of it. And that means exposing those who subsidize it and benefit from it.



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Comments (12)

I get fax spam on my work f... (Below threshold)
Sharon:

I get fax spam on my work fax machine for penny stocks that I would never buy in a million years.There is no contact number for the company promoting the stocks and there is an opt out number at the bottom.When you call the number it supposedly takes you off the list but several days later I start getting even more spam faxes with a different opt out numbers. I have taken to just throwing them int he trash as it is less paper than if I try and stop the spam. There isn't even a way to scream at somebody because there is no way to contact the company.

Those opt-out replies are o... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Those opt-out replies are often a way for the spammer to know its a good e-mail address. I generally don't reply to those, even from brick and mortar companies.

Although they can easily send 100 million e-mails, the person paying for the ads wants some idea how many of those are probably good.

There is another way.: make... (Below threshold)

There is another way.: make it technically impossible to spam someone for long. This would require replacing email systems with a new communications mechanism, but it would be worth it. (Right now, except for corporate email, email is effectively dead to me, and I've been using email for 20 years now.)

A communications mechanism that forced hard-to-generate and indisputable identities to be used, and that incorporated the concept of introductions (such as how mail was sent in the Middle Ages) to be received, could work quite well. The idea would be that if you are not a spammer, you only need one or a few identities. (You might want one for personal mail, one for work, and a handful for things like registering on web sites.) If it took half an hour to generate one, once, and you could then use it for as long as you wanted, that's acceptable. But for a spammer, they would have to generate millions of identities (effectively only a few spams could get through before the identity would get marked as invalid and no one would receive their mail). This would be computationally expensive for them, so their profit/cost goes down dramatically.

It would take a lot of work to create such a system, and even more to get it accepted.

At least with junk mail, I ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

At least with junk mail, I can line the hamster cage with it.

When I was a kid, I had spa... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

When I was a kid, I had spam and eggs. Not bad. What? Not on topic? Oh, that spam. ww

I have a simple solution to... (Below threshold)
john1v6:

I have a simple solution to obliterate all spam, although the anti-tax conservative in me shudders to suggest it: A small tax on all e-mail sent in the US, except messages internal to a single domain (i.e., company or school Intranets). All it has to be is $0.01 per recipient, or even a tenth of a cent. Most of us would pay a dime or so every day (adding $3/month to our ISP bill), and the annual Christmas letter would cost about a dollar, but those massive spams with 100,000,000 recipients would cost the senders $1M. Voila! Problem solved.

I hate the idea of new taxes, and of course you'd have to guard against a slippery slope of ever-increasing taxes. Still, something this tiny might wipe out a rather large problem.

Um, john1v6, how are you go... (Below threshold)

Um, john1v6, how are you going to tax a spammer sending their emails from overseas, as most of them do?

Um, john1v6, how are you go... (Below threshold)
john1v6:

Um, john1v6, how are you going to tax a spammer sending their emails from overseas, as most of them do?


7. Posted by Jeff Medcalf | June 30, 2008 4:03 PM
----------------------------
Tariffs? I really don't know. That's a very good point. It was just a thought that if we could make spamming prohibitively expensive for the spammers, they'd quit.

SPAMMERS SUCK we all know t... (Below threshold)
Knightbrigade:

SPAMMERS SUCK we all know this as FACT...

some great input and concepts, but...

john1v6---
appreciate the effort..but WHOA NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ..PLEASE
DON'T go down THAT road...PLEASE!!!!
I'm beggin ya!!!!
Government and taxes not a good combination to mess with...

lol....With that said I'll go take some meds, and see everyone in a future topic.

The only way to stop spam i... (Below threshold)
Bullwinkle:

The only way to stop spam is to block the web sites that are linked to. If they can't get hits on their sites for 90 days (first offense), longer for each subsequent offense, they won't spam again. It's much easier and cheaper to block access to individual web sites than to block their access to millions of e-mail boxes.

I still get plenty of Niger... (Below threshold)

I still get plenty of Nigerian scam spam Emails in my inbox, but I'd say that all those penis enlargement and sexually based spams Emails stopped several years ago when congress got tougher on sending them to unwanted mailboxes.

But the biggest spammer by far is wholesaler Joe Richey of Wyoming's wholesalerwholesaler who deals in dirt cheap lots of merchandise since I subscribe to a number of wholesale services to weight my business opportunities.

I like what happened to the... (Below threshold)
Mike:

I like what happened to the notorious Russian spammer, whatever-his-name-was, a couple years ago. More of that would help. Lots more.




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