Justifiable Spamicide: Kill off Junk Email

Spam for Dummies

By John R. Levine, et al
222pp. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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 &#151 these days, everyone over the age of 10 &#151
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!

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