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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.
I was thinking about spam the other day. Or rather, a client of mine was as she bemoaned the fact that I recommended she obscure all the email addresses she might place on her web site. Since spammers harvest email addresses found on the web she was, in effect, asking for spam on her friends behalf by posting their email addresses as part of business contact information on her site.
I started to think about what is it that allows spam to proliferate so dramatically.
Then it occurred to me: lack of accountability.
Spammers can spam because there are no repercussions. They can send oodles of email without being able to be traced or identified in any reasonable way. Without being able to tell where the spam truly originates it's almost impossible to stop spam at its source.
My first thought was "Great! Let's make email accountable!" Let's make sure that you can always tell who the real originator of an email is. With system wide changes, it's possible.
But it'll never happen. Or if it does, it won't help.
The ability to communicate anonymously is a fundamental component of a free and open society. There are many valid and appropriate situations where the ability to say something, publicly or person to person, without needing to identify yourself is key. Email today has become one very important and convenient way to do exactly that.
And as a result the spammers tag along for the ride.
If we tighten down email so that anonymity isn't possible then those that need anonymity will find another way, either by abusing the system in some new way or by choosing another medium. And along with them will follow the spammers.
Unless we travel down a path where anonymous communication of any sort is impossible - a world I'm sure most of us don't want - there will always be abusers of that ability.
In other words, there will always be spam.
Maybe there's a compromise out there that will allow us to stem the tide, though like anything that's mostly a political, not technical battle.
90% of the email headed towards me is spam, and maybe that could be reduced.
But I can't see how it'll ever actually stop completely.
I'd love to hear what you think. What steps would you take, what changes would you make, that would stop spam without trampling on the rights of the innocent? Accountability seems like the biggest hole to me, but perhaps there's something else?
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Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.
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