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Monday, August 20, 2007

Spammity Spam

Over the last year or so, I've noticed increasing use of an annoying spam technique.  It seems that some spammers have been dating their emails several days (or sometimes years) into the future.  While these emails get picked up by my spam filter, they sit at the top of the filter.  Such "spam on top of spam" (or "spammity spam") is particularly time-consuming.  In order to find the occasional email wheat mixed in with lots of spammity chaff, you have to selectively delete future-dated emails from your filter, otherwise it's harder to find the more important emails that sit below.  In the good old days (after spam but before spammity spam), you could just take a quick glance at your spam filter without having to maintain it.  Granted, this kind of email maintenance is not exactly a hardship.  But that's the nature of spam.  It's a thousand little distractions that add up to a modest annoyance for a particular email user.  Multiply a modest annoyance times the millions of people who use email, and we have a major distraction.  (Perhaps you could have your email program automatically delete future-dated emails, though I think legitimate emails are sometimes future-dated due to computer glitches.)

Some have proposed fighting spam with a kind of bounty system.  Here's one way it could work:  In order to receive email from a source that I have not already approved, I require you to post a few cents along with your email (say 2 cents but I suppose we could let the recipient pick a higher or lower number).  If you're not willing to post the money, your email doesn't get through to me.  If you post the 2 cents, then I get your email and have the option of claiming your 2 cents.  Such a strategy might well put spammers out of business.  By contrast, you would never claim the bounty from your friends and colleagues (at least not if you want to maintain them as friends and colleagues).  True, this might complicate the work of charitable organizations.  But we've never made postage free for snail mail.  Also, if the bounty systems are created by ISPs or email-service providers, I imagine that First Amendment concerns are unlikely to arise.  I'm sure there are lots of alternative ways of structuring this (for example, rather than posting a bounty, your email-service provider could charge a fraction of a cent for each email that it is asked to process).   My only expertise in this area is that I receive spam; so you may well have a better or more detailed proposal to suggest.   Maybe the transactions costs are too high to implement a system like this.

Posted by Adam Kolber on August 20, 2007 at 09:24 AM | Permalink

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