Tuesday, February 1

Spam on the rise

According to an article published February 1st, 2005, on the New York Times website, unsolicited commercial emails (better known as "spam") now make up 80 percent of all the email carried over the internet. That's up from 50 to 60 percent, one year ago, when the much-hyped Can Spam Act was signed into law. At the time, I predicted on the Computer America Show that Can Spam would have precisely zero effect on junk email. It turns out I was right, but what I didn't predict was that Can Spam would lead to a sharp rise in the amount of junk email. Ah, the law of unintended consequences strikes again! It seems that, far from discouraging would-be junk emailers, Can Spam has made them bold by showing them that if they add a few bits of information to their worthless electrons, the message is legal. Can Spam requires bulk emailers to identify advertisements in the subject line (I'd estimate that one in a thousand junk emails I receive has this), not use false return addresses (of course, nothing specifies for just how long the return address must be valid and I'm sure none of the mailboxes work by the time you want to send your scathing replies), and must offer an "opt-out" feature where people can remove themselves from the mailing lists (we've long told you NEVER to do this, as it simply confirms for the spammer that they've connected with a valid email address). Can Spam, giving the appearance of legality to junk email, has been the spammer's best marketing tool. They can point to this law when soliciting new customers and assure them that unsolicited bulk emails are perfectly legal. Once again, an attempt to legislate morality fails. Look, stopping spam for good requires only one thing: stop buying things from emails you did not ask to receive! Spam continues because it works. In the meantime, forget about Washington D.C. saving you, arm yourself with a good antispam program, take common sense steps to keep your email message private, and you can reduce your torrent of junk email down to a trickle.