Tom Pittman's WebLog

(or something like that)

2006 March 13 -- Stopping Spam

Spam can be stopped, but not by filter software. The experts report that filters take out 90-95% of the spam. All the spammers need to do is increase their volume by a factor of ten to get as much spam through as the filters now block.

The time for e-postage has come and gone. If it had been implemented ten years ago, closer to when Bob Metcalf first proposed it, there would be no spam problem today. Now the spammers have had that heady first snort of free money, and there's no turning back the clock. All they will do is move on to other electronic messaging media -- think: cell phones -- as they already are doing.

The current issue of PCworld magazine has a depressing article on spammers -- including an interview with an unrepentant spammer. It's getting ugly, and they tell us it will get worse. But all they can hope for is more filter software.

Spam still can be stopped. It just needs to be made unprofitable. The only people with the horsepower to pull that off are the lawyers, and it's really not all that hard. Just empower the victims of spam to sue ANYBODY who knowingly profits directly or indirectly from unsolicited commercial electronic messages. Let the winner collect actual damages (punitive are better, but not necessary), including legal expenses. The spammers themselves may be beyond the reach of American law, in Israel or the Bahamas or southeast Asia, but they sell their services to American companies; so sue the beneficiaries. The payments have to go through American banks (which make a profit on the transactions!), so sue the banks. The erotic drugs are made by pharmaceutical companies who also sell other drugs in the USA, so sue them. It won't take long for the high-priced lawyers to figure out that $1 in actual damages (salary for the time it takes to delete one spam message in a corporate office), plus $10,000+ in legal fees is not a bad day's work, and it won't take long for the suppliers to refuse to sell to the spammers, and for the banks to require their customers to indemnify them against spam-related litigation. And it won't be long after that when the low-life scum who actually perpetrate this evil on the rest of us go back to holding up stagecoaches and robbing candy machines.

But it's not going to happen, at least not until Congress members themselves start to feel the pain. Just making it illegal, like the recent spam-enabling law "CAN-SPAM" only makes matters worse. You need to empower the people who can do something about it. Congress is disinclined to do that, for two reasons. First, and most important, Congress is elected by money, not votes, so they take care of the corporate interests who provide their primary income. Those corporate interests -- the internet service providers, the software companies selling spam-zapping software, and all the nefarious companies who use spam as an advertizing tool -- even the banks and credit card companies -- they make money from increasing spam, not reducing it. Then there is the feeling of power that the Federal Government (including Congress) gets by taking power away from the people and centralizing it in Washington. CAN-SPAM nullified some of the best existing (State) spam legislation and replaced it with the toothless law that now causes spam to grow faster than ever before. It used to be that one major political party favored more government waste and bureaucracy, while the other favored less; now both parties are indistinguishably Big-Government wastrels. sigh