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Thoughts On Spam

Thoughts On Spam

May 31, 2002
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" I once had to block a buddy's email address, after I received one too many enema videos. "

A thread on the boards started me thinking about spam, the definition of spam and filtering options. While we all get tons of unwanted junk in our mailboxes every day, how much of it is spam? And for that matter, what is spam? And for those of us who are completely fed up with it, what can be done about it?

I never really gave that much thought to spam, I would check my email, it would arrive, I would delete it. Like a little ritual, it became so much of a habit, that I never put any thought into what was going on. Spam is generally defined as "unwanted and unsolicited email" though we seem to have attached the name only to marketing and sales pitches.

What about all the jokes and pictures and chain letters your friends send you? Is that spam? I, for one, sure don't want any chain letters, nor did I ask for them. Thus, by the broad definition, email from your friends can also be spam. Am I the only one that is sick and tired of getting the same lame joke five times in one day from five different people? And sometimes I am in the CC box of more than one! Check the list folks, if I got it once, I don't want it twice, or more! And then there is the joke that returns months later, like it went around the world and came back to visit me again. It wasn't funny the first time!

Now, the question becomes, what can we do about it? Well, part of the solution is very simple and starts with each of us. Don't blindly send anything and everything you receive off to all of your friends. Very likely they don't want it and if you keep it up, you will only piss them off. I once had to block a buddy's email address, after I received one too many enema videos. Think before you hit that send button. This is also a great way to spread viruses, so be careful about what you send out. As for "professional" spam, there are a couple of options.

A lot of people use their email software's built-in functions to identify and delete unwanted email. This can be a very thorough method, since you set the rules yourself and they are applied as they are downloading. You still waste bandwidth downloading the messages, but at least you do not have them cluttering up your inbox. The major drawback is that you have to manually identify each message and/or address and add them to your blacklist. Not exactly time-efficient. But, there is software to speed up and automate this process for you.

There is a variety of 3rd party filtering software out there to help you block the spam, but they can come with all sorts of inherent dangers, as well as the ease you were looking for. While it may be faster to set up, avoiding the manual identification process, how does this software really know what is spam? How does it know what you want or don't want to receive? A few generic questions and a list that comes with the software is no substitute for a real brain.

I tried this method once, and once only, and wound up missing a very important email because the program decided for me that it was spam. Great... but I enjoy thinking for myself thank you very much. This could also prevent you from receiving the email from your friend (which you wanted) about this "great new free site I found". Sure sounds like a sales pitch, but it isn't. Oops.

Lastly, there is the ISP-level filtering, which scares the living @$#% out of me. When I let someone else decide for me what I can and cannot receive in my email, that's about the same time I have someone wiping my bum for me. This, to me, is just low-level censorship and I want nothing to do with it. If I have to hit the delete button a few extra times a day, fine by me.

In the end, I let it all through. I am the best filter I know of, for me at least. And sometimes they are quite amusing - "Lose Weight While You Sleep, Make $1 Million Doing It and Get Bonus Abs of Steel!!!!" for instance. What amazes me is that people go for this kind of ridiculous crap. While yes, our industry is firmly founded on spam, some of it is simply stupid. If you reply, they know your address is "live" and they will pound the hell out of you.

As for how to stop it, the best way is to ignore it. Don't reply to any of them, don't go for any of their offers. If you reply, they know your address is "live" and they will pound the hell out of you. If you never accept any of the offers, then those companies will go away, as they will not be getting the return on their ad dollars.

Anyway, spam was on my mind. For good or for bad, it is not going anywhere yet. Deal with it as you will, say what you will about it. I am not for, nor against, it. It was just on my mind...


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