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How the War Against Spam is Killing the Internet

Hands down, email is the most widely used and loved computer application brought to life by the Internet.

According to the publication 'Messaging Today' (2000 Electronic Mailbox Report - Feb. 21, 2001), "Email is the most successful communications technology since the television, and in a few years will even surpass that. There are currently more than 891 million email accounts in use Worldwide and 440 million in the U.S. alone - with an average of more than 4 email accounts per person."

While more than 200 million of us use and enjoy email, there are a few thousand people abusing the system and damaging the communication potential of email for the rest of us.


Spammers are the Enemy of Us All

The most common forms of email abuse are as follows:
  • Using email harvesters (software which gathers email addresses from the Internet for the purpose of sending spam messages).

  • Selling the addresses gathered from an actual opt-in email list to someone who the recipient did not give contact permission to personally.

  • Buying the Millions CD's and then requiring people to opt-out of email, rather than to opt-in to the email.

  • Providing remove addresses that do not work.
Generally, the persons using these spam techniques are morons who are simply too lazy to learn how to develop an honest online business or too impatient to build a business that will last a lifetime. Let us not forget that "moron" is the key word here since a spammers business will not generate enough income to justify the cost of doing business the outlaw way.


Lazy Lives on both Sides of the Street!

Spammers spam because they are too lazy to build an online business the old-fashioned way -- with honesty and integrity.

As a result of the spammers obnoxious laziness, the public has been confronted with the growing nuisance of hundreds of spam messages in their email boxes on a daily basis! I have filtered more than 100 pieces per day to my trash bin, and I still receive another 200 plus messages per day that I have not set up filters for yet.

While I will admit that spammers are truly annoying, I must confess that the general public has created new problems for all of us! In the war against spam, email account holders constantly suggest that their ISP's must deal with the spam issue for them.


ISP's Respond

By putting the responsibility of controlling spam on the shoulders of ISP's, rather than hitting the delete key ourselves, we have opened a whole new can of worms.

In truth, ISP's cannot do too much to stem the tide of spam. Yet, with so many angry customers, ISP's felt a strong need to find some kind of solution to the problem.

ISP's had one of two options: Neither is a perfect solution to the spam problem... In fact, both are actually very poor solutions to the spam problem!


HOW SPAM FILTERS WORK

To understand the quandary created by the use of filters in the war against spam, we must first understand how spam filters work.

It is important to understand that filters are actually software applications.

Software is not intuitive!

While a few software applications may seem intuitive, the illusion exists only because the mind of the programmer was able to foresee your desires for the use of the software.

Filtering software exists only as a set of rules to determine the likelihood of a message being spam. Here is an outline of some of the basic rules that spam filtering software follows:
  1. If the origination email server is different from the email server of the sender's default email address, then it is likely spam.

  2. If the email is delivered to more than 25 people, it is likely spam.

  3. If the email originates from a specific server, then it is likely spam. (This is the only rule that the RBL follows.)

  4. If the email originates from a specific country TLD (top-level domain), then it is likely spam.

  5. If certain words appear in the Subject or Email Body, then it is likely spam. (This is where the real problems begin!)

The Pandora's Box of the Spam Wars

ISP's who choose the filter option will either install a filter on incoming email only, outgoing email only or a combination of both.

With the fifth basic rule in the spam filtering software that most ISP's use, each ISP has a list of "spam words" that the software scans for.

A few of the simpler, more obvious "spam words" follow:
- HGH
- DVD
- Casino
- Gambling
- Porn
- Million
- Billion
- Viagra
The first time I had experienced the ugly filter problem was with my first ezine. My ezine was a computer support publication and upon the introduction of a major virus, I tried to send instructions to my list on how to identify the virus and to repair its damage. Unfortunately, my list server had blocked all messages that mentioned the name of the virus. (Never mind that the actual payload email never mentioned the given name for the virus!)

My second experience was in trying to send an article to a friend because I felt the content of the article was important for my friend to have. After seven attempts, I finally realized what the blocked "spam word" was. If you can believe it, the blocked word was Amazon.com !!!

Within the last 30 days, I had two outgoing emails blocked by my own ISP.

The first was being delivered to a client of mine to inform them that I had received their payment. The subject of the email was "Payment Received" (a common subject of spam messages) !!!

The second email hinged on an article I tried to deliver for another client. The dreaded "spam word" was "gold" !!! We had to change the name of the article to get the article past my own ISP's filters.


The Problem in a Nutshell

Richard Lowe, the owner of http://www.Internet-Tips.net says, "The Internet is communication. It's as simple as that."

The problem with ISP filtering is that the ISP cannot know what we want to read and what we do not want to read. A single ISP has clients who use the Internet for business, health, family, research or any of a dozen different purposes.

The person who wants to use the Internet for family communications usually has no interest in business topics. And the online business person may have no interest in family tree software or health products.

Yet, the ISP has no choice but to block all kinds of "spam words" for the full range of communication subjects.

As a result, the family person may not see the information concerning family tree software or other items regarding home life, and the business person may not be able to receive information vital to the operation of their business.


The Scope of This Problem

We email junkies tend to subscribe to ezines covering a wide range of personal preferences. Unfortunately, a large number of ezines are being blocked by ISP's because ezines tend to meet at least two of the criteria built into most spam filters (#1, #2 and sometimes #5).

Once again, the fifth basic rule is the dangerous one.

Spammers are using more and more common words in their mailings that the ISP's are beginning to block.

I can almost guarantee that if your ISP were to turn off their spam filters for a month, you would get to see for the first time a large number of ezines which you subscribed to way back when, but have never seen before.

Sure, you would see a large increase in the spam coming into your email box, but you would also see all of the mail that you want to receive that you have not been receiving.


Where Should we Go From Here?

If we rely upon our ISP's to do the filtering for us, then we are committing ourselves to receive only the information that our ISP's filters are able to let us receive. It is as simple as that.

It is like the news pundits on television say about the war on terrorism, "We have a choice between freedom and security. The more of one we have, the less of the other we will have."

We have two choices:
  1. We turn back the tide of ISP controlled communication and accept the responsibility of setting up our own filters to eliminate the garbage in our inbox.

  2. Or, we continue to rely upon our ISP's to filter the spam by adding new words to their "spam word" lists, eliminating all personal control from our personal communications.

Turning Back the Tide will Require some Concerted Efforts

Our ISP's have been asked for so long to be our "Big Brother" to stem the tide of spam. ISP's have come to the point of believing that we are children who need to be protected from the "morons" who are destroying this incredible communications tool.

To turn back this tide, we must be ready and willing to accept the personal responsibility of controlling our own communications.

First, we must learn to use the tools included in our email software that permit us to set up our own filters. Once we have the basic understanding of how to set up our own email filters, we must progress to step two.

In step two, we must contact our ISP and let them know that we want to be responsible for ourselves. Our ISP must understand that we DO NOT want them to run spam filters on their email servers. We must declare that we do not them to baby-sit our communications for us. We must emphasize that we want to decide for ourselves what we want to read and what we do not want to read! We must emphasize that we would rather use our delete keys, than to rely upon their filters to not block any of our important communications.

You and I alone will not be able to convince our ISP's to ditch the policy of acting as our "Online Big Brother". But, when enough of us have banded together and made our demands for open communications clear, ISP's will have to take notice and turn off their filters for fear of losing their customer base.

If we permit ISP controlled filters to continue to grow unabated, the filters will eventually eliminate the real value of email as a communications tool.

We must take a stand to reverse the focus of the War Against Spam! We must take a stand now to reverse the tide, or we risk the very real death of email communication and the Internet!

To learn more about the "War Against Spam", visit the following links:
http://PathTrax.com/x.pl/BP121,spam_war_crossfire
http://PathTrax.com/x.pl/BP121,Will_Email_Kill_Email
. . .

About the Author:
Bill Platt owns The Phantom Writers, a company committed to helping people to establish an Internet presence & promote their businesses through the use of Free-Reprint Articles. All articles are distributed to 6,500+ publishers & web-masters as part of the package. Do you write articles? Let us distribute them for you. http://PathTrax.com/x.pl/BP121,60



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