Spam continuing to damage the Internet's health
Parasite One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return
COULD SPAM EFFECTIVELY destroy the Internet? While that's a question direct marketers would either avoid or laugh at, depending on their outlook, it's an increasingly-serious problem.
The Internet, in its most abstract form is a tool designed to facilitate communication between at least two parties who may be separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. The idea of an electronic mail system that can deliver messages across this network is an obvious one and is crucial to the dissemination of information. Even in the 21st century, email functions as the lowest-common-denominator of Internet access. Computers far too slow for streaming video or flash animations can access it, even users on ancient 14.4 modems can download it, assuming no attachments, and even the most electronically uninitiated can learn/understand the simple act of writing a letter and sending it to someone electronically. For many people exploring online for the first time, email acts as a gateway and entry point to a much wider world. It is, in a word, essential.
Spam began life as small containers of whipped pig, became an occasional annoyance, and is rapidly becoming a problem of endemic proportions. AOL is reportedly beginning to block ADSL users from certain networks that run their own personal mail servers, from writing to AOL addresses as an anti-spam effort.
Faced with a deluge of spam coming from the East, many US companies/technical firms have begun banning all email delivered from certain world IP ranges. Blocked at the firewall, such email bounces and isn't delivered. An increasing number of users refuse to publish their email addresses or give erroneous ones so as not to be placed on email lists that are then sold to mass-marketing companies. Entire websites are devoted to maintaining blacklists of domains or IP's accused of spamming, and getting taken off such a list can be all but impossible.
All of the anti-spam actions undermine the fundamental principles of communication the Internet is meant to foster and the problem isn't getting better. Faced with an ever-increasing deluge of junk mail, users and companies alike are adopting increasingly restricted rules of communication that have begun to transform email networks from open communication areas to walled fortresses, the occupiers of which speak to each other only under an occasional flag of truce.
It might be easier to tolerate this parasitic form of advertising if any of the arguments used to justify its continued existence held water. Some of these are.
It takes no effort to delete Untrue. Deleting one email takes no effort, deleting 500 does, particularly when one must sort through all 500 to ensure that a real, valuable message isn't wiped along with the junk.
Users can opt-out of receiving it Again, untrue. It’s a well-known fact that responding to a spam email with a removal option will indeed get you removed from that particular company's list, but it'll also put your name on a list of "guaranteed" active email addresses that'll be resold at a premium price. It's like plugging one hole in a dike while drilling fifty more.
Spam advertises important services Unless fifty thousand people I don't know have somehow intuited that I'm drastically under-endowed, have a secret love for websites named "goatsandsheep.com" and want to make money from home without buying anything, selling anything, talking to anyone, or sending any mail, I don't think this argument holds water either.
Perhaps the biggest and most practical anti-spam argument, however, is its cost. While bulk email lists are cheap and sending the emails may be effectively free, the cumulative cost in network bandwidth to the thousands of companies slammed with the message isn't. Spam is the ultimate advertising parasite. Imagine, for a moment, that your newspaper boy was forced to deliver fifty thousand advertisements with every paper, while the newspaper company itself was stuck with the cost of transporting and creating those ads, even though the work was done by a third party.
Spam is, in fact, only distantly related to any other form of advertising. Pick up a paper or turn on the television and you'll see advertisements — but these advertisements are placed with the mutual understanding that you, by choosing to read the paper or watch a television program, have agreed to be shown such advertisements to help subsidise it. Websites operate under a similar paradigm. While you are reading this article there are ads running on the page — by visiting The INQUIRER you give tacit consent to view them as partial "payment" for the content you are consuming.
Email spam is something else entirely. It is the only form of advertising that thrusts itself into a space set aside for the private citizen, while trumpeting its right to exist due to the fact that it offers readers choices, whether they want them or not. The argument that having an email address is a tacit invitation to spam is logically false unless an ISP's specific agreement were to implant such a rule. By paying my $20 (or whatever you pay an ISP) you are paying for the right to rent what amounts to an electronic PO Box. Were you to do such a thing at a standard post office, it would not give Best Buy the right to stroll by and casually stuff it full of ads.
If the current spam epidemic is not stopped by legislative action it will inevitably destroy a fundamental principle on which the Internet was based. Email will still exist (as will websites, etc) but the open communication that made the Internet such a useful and interesting place will ultimately be scrapped in favor of a degree of privacy that prevents such abuse.
While composing this piece I received 18 emails, 2 of which were genuine, 6 of which were viruses, and ten of which were spam. This is a big problem. µ