Friday, 23 August, 2002

Spam Legislation/The Internet Mail Consortium

The August 19 issue of eWeek has a group of articles about spam.  One article describes the problem, and provides some interesting numbers about how spam has grown over the last year, and what spammers are selling.  Other articles discuss current filtering techniques, and some proposed legislation.  What strikes me about these articles is that almost all of the "experts" agree that filtering is at best temporarily effective, and that legislation likely will be wholly ineffective.  And yet, those same "experts" continue to support legislation.  Huh?

Just how effective do you expect anti-spam legislation to be when the very same legislators who will be passing the laws will use unsolicited bulk email as a tool to get re-elected?  If you doubt that, take a look at this article from The Mercury News.  In related news, the Federal Election Commission decided that it's okay for political ads transmitted over SMS (short messaging service) to forego transmitting disclosure information.  To be fair, disclosure exemptions are common practice for media that are limited to small numbers of characters.  Still, expect your mobile phones and perhaps your text pagers to be flooded with political spam in the next few months.  I'm sure your newly elected legislators will be happy to pass an anti-spam bill after they see how effective those campaigns are.

I've mentioned the Internet Mail Consortium before.  Today I found two reports on their site:  Unsolicited Bulk Email: Definitions and Problems, and Unsolicited Bulk Email:  Mechanisms for Control.  Both reports were written in 1997, and the "Mechanisms for Control" report was updated in May of 1998.  The articles do a good job of defining the problem and identifying in broad terms the possible solutions.  One thing of note is that this is the only place I've seen serious discussion of my "trusted server" idea.  They call it "First-hop Accountability."  I find nothing on their site that takes this idea any further, nor any real discussion of the spam problem in general, other than support of legislation.  I'm disappointed, but not terribly surprised, I guess, by the IMC's ineffectiveness.  Their main web page says:

The Internet Mail Consortium is the only international organization focused on cooperatively managing and promoting the rapidly-expanding world of electronic mail on the Internet. The goals of the IMC include greatly expanding the role of mail on the Internet into areas such as commerce and entertainment, advancing new Internet mail technologies, and making it easier for all Internet users, particularly novices, to get the most out of this growing communications medium.

In truth, I think the member organizations are members only to protect their own interests, and ensure that they're kept abreast of any proposed changes.  That they haven't actually done anything to help combat the spam problem shows me that the IMC is just another group of industry "leaders" who aren't at all interested in solving anything.

Finally, I wonder how receptive Brightmail and other anti-spam software providers would be to an effective solution to the spam problem.  If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might even accuse these companies of supporting spammers.  But, no, they wouldn't do that.  Would they?