Justifiable Spamicide: Kill off Junk Email

By Jonathan Jackson
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Fighting Spam for Dummies
By John R. Levine, et al
222pp. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. $14.99.

One has to believe that if Dante were alive and writing today he would create a separate level of hell for spammers. They would be grouped in a particularly loathsome circle where their torments would last for eternity. However, in the absence of that happy judgment day, we are forced to find more earthly ways to deal with the scourge of unsolicited e-mail.

Anyone with an e-mail address — these days, everyone over the age of 10 — has noticed that the dimensions of the spam problem have magnified astoundingly. All the wonderful things about e-mail (primarily that it is fast and cheap) also make it irresistible to the very worst sort of marketer. Unfortunately, the marketing industry itself didn't realize this until it was almost too late. Now we have a patchwork of global laws that look good on the books but so far inflict minimal damage to spammers.

It is left to individuals to hold back the spam tide as best they can. Most people have tried to do that with filters and address blockers, but like persistent crabgrass the unwelcome hordes of e-mail keep coming. Recognizing this, consumer and marketing publishers have released a number of new books designed to make us better spam warriors.

The authors of Fighting Spam for Dummies have assembled a nifty treatise on the subject from the consumer's point of view. While others have penned lofty tomes meant primarily for reputable marketers in the industry, this new entry in the Dummies series is eminently readable and helpful. So what's the secret to fighting spam?

As with most issues having to do with the Internet, the answer isn't that easy. Yes, tightening up those filters and blockers will have an effect, but most filters are only as good as the rules we write. A filter told to skim off messages with the word "free" in the subject line will have no effect on an e-mail with "f-r-e-e" in the same field. In addition to being relentless, spammers are also clever.

Without recommending or endorsing any one method, Fighting Spam goes on to discuss desktop anti-spam programs and server-side spam filtering for network administrators. What will probably be most helpful to lay readers are the step-by-step instructions the book provides for fighting spam in various mail programs, such as Outlook and Eudora. The straightforward writing style and useful graphics will undoubtedly appeal to the technophobes out there.

At this stage of the Internet's development, we may safely say that e-mail isn't going away. Like snail mail and the telephone, the medium has become thoroughly integrated into modern life. Unlike other means of communication however, we have not found an effective way of policing unethical and invasive forms of e-mail marketing. While there are do-not-call lists and postal regulations that stave off the unpleasant aspects of offline marketing, the e-mail marketing business is still a Wild West.

Eventually a tenable solution will be found. There is too much at stake for the spam problem to be ignored, and the technology is improving every day. Until then, we just have to hunker down and fight on!

This article was originally published on May 11, 2004
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