Spam? No thank you, m'am

Spam is worse than ever. Can this problem ever be fixed? The residents of Cringeville weigh in with some solutions

I don't know about you, but beautiful Russian girls are just dying to meet me. They're all 26 years old, most of them are named Olga, and from their descriptions they sound totally hot. But first I have to buy a fantastic luxury timepiece, change my Facebook login, get a bucketful of knockoff prescriptions, and pick up that parcel waiting for me at UPS or DHL (even though I never ordered anything).

Yes, spam is ruling my life these days. My inbox is overflowing with it. Amazingly, it seems to have gotten worse since the last time I ranted about it, if that's possible.

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And yes, I use multiple spam filters. So does my Web host, my ISP, and (I'm certain) my ISP's upstream providers. I'm sure they're catching 95 percent of the crap. But 5 percent of 250 billion emails sent each day is still quite a lot of crap.

Back in October I asked the residents of Cringeville what they would do to fix the spam problem. And I got a number of very good responses. Why am I just writing about it now? Because -- irony alert -- those responses were all trapped in my (ahem) spam folder, which I clean out about as often as my sock drawer (about once a decade).

So I dug through it and found messages from several Cringesters with the same good idea: Make email expensive to send in large amounts. Here's C. D.'s scheme:

My best bet is for a robust, maybe token-based, validated email system that (gulp!) costs money like a stamp to send email. At a fraction of a penny per email, I don't think anyone should balk at having to pay a buck or two per month extra to clean things up. Maybe this is validated through ISPs, so it's more transparent to end users? Maybe our illustrious USPS could get savvy enough to make it happen and keep from going bankrupt?

A penny or two for an individual isn't a deal breaker -- think of what people pay for texting packages!

I like this scheme, though I'd modify it slightly -- let you send the first 500 or so emails for free, or only charge for email sent to more than, say, 50 or 100 people at once. That should let casual users off the hook and make commercial users carry the load (as it should be).

But it will never fly. Why? Because of what I call "legal spammers" -- ad agencies and online marketers who fill our inboxes with solicitations for actual products, whether or not we've asked for them. They've spent millions making sure most of the antispam laws on the books are toothless.

The other problem? When the spammers phish your account and suddenly you're on the hook for their marketing bills. Cringester  J. L. B. is less than sympathetic to your plight, though:

When Joe Clueless starts receiving $200 bills from his ISP because of all those spams he's unwittingly sending us, maybe he'll start paying attention to security.

Other Cringe readers offered technical solutions -- like encouraging ISPs to employ Sender Policy Framework and use Reverse MX lookups to spot forged sender addresses.

Regular commentor ticedoff8 suggests we hand over our email systems to a third party so that they can enforce anti-spam rules:

To solve this problem, someone has to "own" the routing and transport system. This new system would have to be secure and require some form of authorization to access (put mail into the pipe). ...This "owner" of this new transport & routing system would establish criteria for relationships with ISPs. If the ISP violates their contracts - boom, the hammer drops and the ISP is cut off.

As he (she?) notes, you'd have to give up notions of a free and open Internet and Net neutrality to make such a system work. And then there's the possibility of somebody just bribing their way onto that third party's permanent whitelist.

Dedicated anti-spammers like Spamhaus's Steve Linford have spent years negotiating with tier-one and tier-two backbone providers, trying to persuade them to shut down known spamming operations. And he's been amazingly successful.

The problem? There's too much money for many of them to turn down -- literally millions a month in bandwidth charges. Spammers who get booted just move to another provider or set up shop under a different name, so it becomes a constant game of whack-a-mole. And then there's the thriving black market of Web hosts and bandwidth providers who specialize in providing safe haven to the scum of the Internet.

I suppose if this were an easy nut to crack we'd all be eating peanuts by now -- and enjoying a spam-free Internet.

Last time out I suggested sentencing spammers to some quality time in a maximum security cell with an ex-biker named "Tiny." But I think that's too good for these people. They should be strung up by their thumbs and forced to watch ShamWow infomercials and Rick Astley videos until their ears bleed.

Are you with me? Who wants to take pitchforks and torches to the homes of the world's worst spammers? Vote aye or nay below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This story, "Spam? No thank you, m'am," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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