I am spam

What do we do while our government dithers over spam? I like the idea of signing up each and every spammer that sends me mail to another spammer's email, but that requires intervention on my part, and frankly I'm a sloth.

Ah, the long weekend. The chance to get out, have that extra day in the garden pottering among the trees and vines. Or is it the opportunity to sit in traffic in the pouring rain hoping that huge truck in front doesn't topple over, but secretly hoping it might to help stave off the boredom?

One eye on the speedo, one on the littlest passengers (for signs of whoops, gotta pull over) and one on the road looking for police cars, all the while knowing that when you get into the office on Tuesday you'll have an inbox full of spam to wade through.

Of the roughly 80 emails I had waiting last Tuesday I could categorise 45 instantly as spam. That didn't include press releases from companies I've never heard of or emails relating to IT products, services or announcements, as they kind of go with the IT reporter territory.

It's a nuisance, but it's also more. According to Computerworld US columnist Brian Livingston, if only 1% of the companies in the US decided to send you one email a year you'd have over 600 emails a day to go through. Spam is quadrupling in volume every year -- clogging up the internet like the piles of junk mail that falls out of letterboxes -- and without laws to allow ISPs and end users to sort things out it's not going to slow down any time soon.

But isn't this a technology issue not a legal one, I hear you cry. The initial problem might well be technical but the solutions are not. I don't care if an ISP has a business case for an open relay server, it's how it's used rather than what it is that's of concern to me. Of course, we'd need laws that say "spam is a no-no -- if you spam you will be fined".

But that seems to be something our legislative leaders aren't interested in at the moment. Mind you, the technology laws they are interested in don't look likely to be passed into law before the election either. The US so far takes a pretty soft line on spam, while European parliament just last week took the "soft opt-in" route to spam, whereby if a user agrees to receive online messages the company can continue sending them until it is told to stop.

But what do we do while our government dithers? I like the idea of signing up each and every spammer that sends me mail to another spammer's email, but that requires intervention on my part, and frankly I'm a sloth. Also Lotus Notes doesn't make it easy to find the headers so I'm concerned any attacks I may launch would only cause more chaos -- the information superhighway equivalent of rubber-necking, I guess.

On the plus side, I only ever give out my work email address, and sometimes a spoof of that, so when I depart these shores (y'know, to go work in PR), I'll leave it all behind me. I like the idea of getting my own domain name and then sending out email from one-time addresses so I can track down the source should I start to receive any spam.

I'd like to see the ISPs getting more involved in the whole problem, but I guess I'm barking up the wrong tree on that score. What, us limit the email that comes in to your account? That would be, well, wrong, wouldn't it?

Yes, it uses bandwidth, and as we all become broadband users that's like printing money for an ISP. Well, it would be if Telecom's wholesale rate card was a little more reasonable.

But in every company that decides to send out spam, there is an IT department, no matter how small, that agrees to set it up. Not all of us are as scrupulous as we could be, but surely there are enough IT people out there that know this is a ridiculous thing to do? Here's what to do if you work for a company that's starting to think seriously about its online marketing activities and someone says "Hey, why don't we send out bulk email? Everyone's doing it": for pity's sake stand up on the boardroom table and shout out a resounding no.

Do it for all of us, OK?

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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