Wednesday, 20 November, 2002

Stupid Spam Fighting Ideas

So spam is killing email, and the way to stop it is with opt-in systems.  Or so Kevin Werbach says in his article on Slate.  This is stupid!  It will work, true.  Whitelists very effectively block mail from everybody except those that you specifically allow.  Your inbox will be free of clutter.  It also will be free of order confirmations, mailing list messages, status updates, and the dozens of other types of automated mail that you want to arrive.  Not only that, but whitelists only treat the symptom.  They keep your inbox clean, but do nothing to stop spam (is it really one-third of the Internet mail traffic?) from clogging the email system.

Some genius who posted a comment on the article proposed that we change the system to make it computationally expensive to send email.  The theory is that it wouldn't affect normal users who send maybe a few dozen emails a day.  They won't care if it takes five or ten seconds to process an email before sending it.  But bulk mailers would be out of business.  A ten second delay between emails would limit them to fewer than 10,000 messages a day.  This, too, would do more harm than good.  First off, you'd have to change the entire email protocol.  I'm not sure if the people at Slate who left that comment visible are poking fun at the guy (I sure hope so), or if they really think it's a good idea.

If people are willing to change the entire email protocol base, then it's time to design a high-performance, secure, flexible, and extensible system that's based on current technology.  I would suggest that end-to-end accountability be part of the new system.  That would eliminate spam, as well as provide a modern system that can more easily handle the features and volume that we need.  The current system is based on and designed to work with 30-year-old technology.  That it's lasted this long reflects well on its designers.  But it wasn't designed for today's environment, and its limitations are fast becoming a hindrance to continued use.