‘Shooting The Messenger’

Yoz does a great job rounding up some Plan For Spam links. First off, he links to a great essay, Shooting The Messenger, which nicely rebuts the idea that to deal with spam, we need an SMTPng. Recommended. (He goes a bit overboard with some hard-ass filtering recommendations at the end IMO, though…)

Secondly, Yoz links to a couple more posts. The first is a friendly-fire incident involving the SpamCop DNS blacklists, illustrating the dangers of peer-to-peer ‘this is spam’ reporting. There’s a related issue with the SpamCop DNSBL, in that it’s over-sensitive; one report can sometimes be enough to get a site BLed, which is not good. The problems with SpamCop’s hair-trigger thresholds are well-documented, and — hopefully — Julian will fix them soon.

The second is a mail from John Gilmore to Politech. He says ‘a simple rule for anti-spam measures that preserves non-spammers’ freedom to communicate is: No anti-spam measure should ever block a non-spam message. But there isn’t a single anti-spam organization that actually follows this rule.’

Wrong. That’s exactly the SpamAssassin angle. If the user says it’s not spam, it’s not spam — and we have to figure out a way to get our scoring system to return that result, if at all possible. And yes, it gets it wrong about 0.1% of the time — and that’s why we never tell users to block, bounce or delete spam if at all possible; just mark it ‘possible spam’ and divert to another folder, and always let a human take a look to verify that decision.

Given the nature of the spam problem, and the nuisance it poses to virtually everybody trying to use email, that’s the best that can be done at this point.

And yes, something has to be done. Spam is a massive problem. If it’s not dealt with somehow, and kept out of our day-to-day inboxes, people will stop using mail. Before spam filters became ubiquitous, I talked to many casual internet users who (a) closed down their email address every 6 months to escape the flood, or (b) gave up reading their mail because of it. (And why did spam filters become ubiquitous?)

It comes down to: what’s better for the internet — a mislabelled email in your ‘spam bucket’ folder — or no email at all?

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