The following text is copyright 1998 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Engendering disgust

By Scott Bradner
Network World, 4/6/98

I have resisted writing about spam mail for a long time - actually since
mid-1994. But this is not to say that spam is far from my mind.

It would be hard to forget the issue considering how many spam
messages I get per day. Judging from the fact that all too many of the
messages are advertisements for companies that want to send spam
mail for me or will sell me the software to do it myself, things are not
likely to get better soon.

Some people still claim that spam is not a problem because you can
just delete unwanted messages and move on. But I wonder if those
people actually use computers.

If they do use computers, I'm sure they do not subscribe to AOL. The
figure on spam most often cited of late has been that as much as one
third of the mail on AOL is spam. It gets more than a bit tiring to
retrieve and delete all the junk.

I've decided to revisit the question of spam at this time because of the
reception Sendmail, Inc. has received to its recent announcement of
antispam technology. This announcement was a big story to most of
the major U.S. news organizations, including The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal and CNN. The FBI's decision to send out its
own spam ( also has prompted me to
write on the subject of spam again.

The Sendmail improvements try to make it harder for companies that
send spam to hide their actual location. These companies often try to
hide their location to avoid the angry return mail and the notifications
of bounced mail. These companies redirect this mail to some innocent
third party or to someone that they do not like.

The Sendmail improvements also try to keep spam senders from using
third-party computers to do the actual sending of the mail. These
improvements should be quite a help, but the problem will not go
away easily.

Junk fax problem solved

A few years back junk faxes were a big problem, but they have just
about disappeared in the U.S. Two seemingly minor changes in the
legal landscape seem to have done the trick. First, you're not allowed
to send faxes to people who don't want them. Second, all of the
information on the fax - including the sender's identity - must be
accurate or the assumption is that the send  faxes to peoplewho don't want them. Second, all ofthe information on the fax - including the sender's identity - must be accurate or the assumption is that the senderis attempting to commit wire fraud, which is a felony.

The same steps might work for solving the spam problem.

The business of spam must be controlled if the Internet is going to get close to its potential. A future in which hundreds of thousands of companies are sending unwanted mail to millions of people is not pleasant to imagine.

It does continue to amaze me that some people are eager to engenderthe disgust of millions in order to getthe business of a few hundred. But immunity to disgust seems to be a featureof the people who are in this type ofbusiness.

Disclaimer: I trust Harvard engenders more envy than disgust, but in any case, the above are my laments.