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Spam: Get Over It
by david    Aug 31, 2001

I hear two things all the time, from almost everyone I know who uses the web: "There are too many banners." "I get too much spam." Lately, this feeling seems to be escalating -- I read about it in magazines, and see the same posts all over bulletin boards and chats. People appear to be incensed about spam, banner-ads, pop-ups and pop-unders. For many, it has become a blinding hatred.

Recently, several "solutions" have been floating around -- for pop-ups, the solutions appear pretty basic: little applications or browser plugins that stop pop-ups from appearing, or close them right away (I'll talk more about them and their problems in another article). For spam, however, a solution appears more difficult to come by. A couple of weeks ago, a columnist from an online magazine (C/Net or Wired -- I forget which) suggested that a good solution to the spam he despises would be to charge a few pennies for every email sent, like regular mail or long-distance telephone calls. he felt the price would be negligible enough not to hurt regular users overmuch, but large enough to discourage spammers, considering their enormous email volume.

Aside from a terrible aversion to paying for email at reaches to the very core of my geekhood, I've other objections to this approach. And I have to begin with a question: is spam really hurting you? Spam is easily disposed of (a quick glance at a "from" address and the subject allows you to identify most of it by eyeballing), and even easier if you take time to set up a simple spam filter (free with most web-based email services, and included in many email clients). In addition, much of the spam people get is, in part, their own fault (let the flames begin, but it is true). If you shop online or fill out web forms, take the time to read them completely, and uncheck any boxes that ask if you want to receive updates, or grant permission to sell your info. Read privacy policies on sites. When you take care, you can stop a large percentage of so-called "spam," which, in reality, are emails you actually agreed to receive.

The combination of a good filter and careful web conduct eliminates a lot of unwanted email. Some spammers will still get you -- you can curb this somewhat by using the "unsubscribe" protocols included in every spam email by law. Many of these are bogus protocols (I've noticed this a lot lately), but some do legitimately remove you from the lists.

And then you are left with perhaps a handful of true spam emails each day. It is inevitable. You'll just have to throw them in the trash manually. Sorry.

Still, if you really, really hate the idea of manually trashing a handful or emails a day, and believe that putting a pay service in place will stop these folks, I'm sorry to tell you you are mistaken. It just won't work. We pay for snail mail -- how many pieces of junk mail do you receive each day that someone had to pay for? We pay for phone calls -- how often do you receive unsolicited calls from telemarketers? Printing costs money (and kills trees) -- how often do you come out of the movie theater or the mall to find flyers stuck under your windshield wipers? Charging a few cents per email is not going to stop hardcore spammers. It is a pipe dream. In fact, it may encourage spammers.

Think -- folks willing to pay for each email (those who'd be left in the system if services begin charging for it) must have more disposable income -- they are more desirable targets for marketers. Plus, if they paid in hopes to stop spam, maybe they are indeed getting less of it, and they'll have more attention to pay to your spam. Real spammers will figure out a way to get your email address, regardless of how much you pay, and are willing to put out a few cents to get your eyeballs. It is their job, and those few cents per mail will be included in their budgets.

The great thing about the internet is the free exchange of ideas and information. And the bad thing about the internet is...the free exchange of ideas and information. You get good with bad. Human nature being what it is, someone will always try to take advantage of the system. If we want to retain the benefits of email (and there are huge benefits), we all just have to learn to live with spam.

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