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Commerce: Fight Spam!
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[This month your humble editor is writing for himself alone, not for the contributors and signatories, and so will write in first-person singular.]

It's been a few months since I've written a new editorial; for personal reasons I have been on hiatus from many spam-related activities for most of that time.

Why do I do this? Why, with so many other problems in the world, do I bother to take time to deride spam? And, even if unsolicited ads are a problem, why focus on e-mail first instead of something more intrusive, like telemarketing, or more wasteful, like paper junk mail?

I get asked these questions at least once a month, maybe a bit more. Most e-mail users find the answer so obvious that they do not bother to ask. The answer is quite simple: I fight spam because I want to use e-mail.

Let me say that again: I fight spam because I want to use e-mail. I want to use e-mail to communicate at work and at home, with co-workers and friends, colleagues and strangers, reporters and politicians, the whole great wide world of people who are out there. Spam threatens to make e-mail, the best person-to-person communication tool since the invention of the phone, useless. It has always threatened to make it useless; the only difference between six years ago, when we launched this site, and now is that more people see it because there is so much more spam.

Telemarketers don't pump out so many phone calls that you can't sort out your legitimate calls from the junk. The same is true with junk mail - at worst, you can sort your junk mail in under a minute per day, and you rarely risk losing important mail because there is so much junk that your mailbox fills up. Right now, I'm closing in on 200/day, and it's getting rather hard to be sure I never miss a legitimate e-mail. If the growth keeps up, I'll finish the year at around the 300 spams/day mark.

As bad as it is for me, I'm just one person, and I normally get a lot of e-mail anyway - around 500 messages/day. Consider what it would be like for a small business, where perhaps people get just 10-20 legitimate messages each day. Add 100 - let alone 200 - spams per person per day on top of that, and how are these people to get any work done? Worse yet, think about how hard it must be to properly sort 90% of mail into spam folders while not missing important messages - communications from the boss, messages from customers, inquiries from prospective customers.

Maybe you can't sympathize with a business owner? Well, think about your mom or your grandmother, logging in to her computer one night looking for e-mail from her kids or grandkids and finding instead "HOT TEENAGE SEX!!!". Think she's going to like that? I don't think so...

All of these people - moms, businesspeople, average users - may like to use e-mail, but they're not going to keep doing it if they get piles and piles of spam, even if they get legitimate messages in with them. Sooner or later, if the problem is not addressed, spam is going to destroy the free and open e-mail system we've got today. If we're lucky, we'll get a halfway decent replacement that people will actually use and that can be used on as many different kinds of computers as today's system can be. If not, kiss e-mail goodbye. And I just don't want to do that: I want to use e-mail, and so I fight spam.

Scott Hazen Mueller / E-mail me