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  • How the War Against Spam is Killing the Internet
    Copyright 2002, Bill Platt

    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 
    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. 
    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. 
    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. 
    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:
    - RBL (Realtime Blackhole List) http://mail-abuse.org/rbl/
    - Installing Email Filters
    Neither is a perfect solution to the spam problem... In fact, 
    both are actually very poor solutions to the spam problem!
    To understand the quandary created by the use of filters in the 
    war against spam, we must first understand how spam filters 
    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!)
    ISP's who choose the filter option will either install a filter 
    on incoming email only, outgoing email only or a combination of 
    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.
    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. 
    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 own ISP was to turn off 
    their spam filters for a month, you would get to see for the 
    first time a large number of ezines that 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. 
    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.
    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 
    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 
    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!
    For more information about the "War Against Spam", visit the 
    following links:

    Bill Platt owns http://thePhantomWriters.com . Do you need free content for your website or ezine? Our archives deliver more than 350 free-reprint articles available for your use. http://content.thePhantomWriters.com . Do you write your own articles? Let us distribute them for you to our network of 6000+ publishers & webmasters http://thePhantomWriters.com/distribution

    This article was originally written: August, 2002

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