News: How Not To Fight Spam

By | September 16, 2003
 From the How Does This Work Again Dept? comes news of a company that pays spammers to take your name off their list. But the whole thing depends on trusting spammers, which is too early in the morning to find a suitable analogy for. Wired reports that Global Removal charges subscribers a $5 lifetime fee to have their e-mail addresses put on a permanent do-not-spam list. Addresses on the list are then compared with, and removed from, mailing lists maintained by Global Removal’s partnering businesses — more than 50 known spammers and an equal number of legitimate e-mail marketers. The idea: unlike other attempts at creating do-not-spam lists, this will work because it gives spammers an incentive to cooperate. Money.
It’s not a terrible idea, but it rests on a fallacy: that spammers are not interested in email addresses of folk who don’t want to receive spam. I just don’t buy that. Spammers usually work for other people — they’re just a delivery mechanism — and they need to be able to deliver in bulk — in other words, send the pitch to as many email addresses as possible. They’ll be happy to take Global Removal’s money as extra cash on the side, and remove a few email addresses, but they are not going to stop harvesting — scouring the web for email addresses — or guessing (obtaining an ISP’s address, for example, and then testing a telephone book full of regular names, from to to see whether they get through). So it means that you have no guarantee any other email addresses you have won’t get harvested in this way. Unless all spammers sign up for the service, and agree to stop harvesting new email addresses, it won’t work.
Lastly, the way spammers increasingly work is not through spam lists but by open proxy servers — other people’s computers, which are tricked into sending on spam, and in many cases, hosting the websites respondents visit — meaning that it’s very, very hard to trace where the spam came from. Global Removal will either have to offer forensic monitoring of the spammers signed up to its service to ensure compliance, or else it will only work with the (very, very small) number of spammers who are halfway legitimate, in that they do not disguise where their spam comes from, let alone comply with various state and country laws governing spam. Sadly, spammers are getting sleazier, and a service like Global Removal just adds another financial incentive for spammers to get into the game.

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