“Doing Something” About Spam

There is a growing urge amongst everyone using the Internet to “do something” about spam.

The growing frustration with spam has lead to more consumer and corporate anti-spam filtering technologies. “ESPs” (E-mail Service Providers) are legitimately afraid that false positives by these filters are going to decrease the overall effectiveness of e-mail as a communications tool. And ISPs are getting very tired of the costs associated with the massive amount of unwanted messages that they have to deliver.

Following behind the host of technical solutions to spam are the interest groups and task force groups being set up to represent the interests of each group.

For example, the ESPs have set up a group via the NAI. And now standards body the IETF has set up the Anti-Spam Research Group to research technical solutions, some of which this CNET article says make take years to implement — because fighting spam may mean a fundamental change to the way e-mail works.

JamSpam appears to be looking for a holistic approach, recognizing that all involved (okay with exception of the spammers) have legitimate concerns and the only solutions that will work are ones that recognize everyone’s issues.

I have two big concerns in this rush to action:

1. ISPs have taken it upon themselves to determine what is and is not wanted e-mail. That means that things that people legitimately want and senders have legitimate reason to send, are not being delivered by ISPs. While everyone can sympathize that they get more mail than they want to handle and that this is driving up their costs, they need to let the user decide what is wanted and what is not. Imagine of the Postal Service decided it had too much mail and these LL Bean catalogues seem to be in the mail far too often so they decided to dump them all in a big recycle bin.

2. The other big issue as I see it is the amorphous definition of “spam” itself. Many people now think of spam as ALL marketing messages, or ALL messages from businesses, or ANY message that they are not interested in. And because people have been given the dubious advice to “never unsubscribe from spam” because it will beget more spam, we now have a situation where legitimate mailing lists have hundreds of subscribers who are submitting them to spam filters rather than use the standard unsubscribe feature to get off the list.