Practical Solutions


Posted to HotWired 23 Dec 96

Spam will not be stopped by legislation No single national government can legislate internet behaviour. And the internet as a whole is not governed by legislation, but rather, by protocol, so there will be no legislated solution to spam.

Spam will not be stopped by technology Well, if we can't *force* people to stop spamming, why can't we make it impossible to do technologically? The problem is, the people spamming are as literate as the people trying to block them. So, there will be no (permanent) technological solution to spam.

Spam is neither good nor bad It depends on your point of view. Some people object to paying time and money to read it, while others like it. Some people say it will destroy the internet, others disagree. There is no absolute right or wrong here.

OK, that pretty well covers all the debate I've heard so far. None of the argumnets I've read above comes close to succeeding? Why not?

The internet is no longer a single entity I never use public newsgroups. I don't want to hear from everyone's dog about this, that and the other thing. Instead, I use private newsgroups and mailing lists. Although they are a part of the internet (you could get to them if you wanted) they are effectively invisible because I keep the addresses to myself. No big secrets here - it's just not worth anyone's effort to find them.

Half my web site is like that. I don't link it anywhere, and I don't tell the whole world it exists. You could get to it, but again, are you going to spend a couple weeks finding testwelcomemain.htm just to view my preview homepage?

This is probably the future of the internet. People who don't want to be spammed will opt for private email addresses. They can still join lists (such as hotwired) if they wish. They can post to boards like this - more or less private - as they wish. So long as they keep their email to themselves, more or less, they won't get spammed.

If I wanted, I could set up my own internet-invisible tranmission protocols and still use the TCP/IP network.

Here is the solution to Spam: My degree of integration into the internet is my own choice (and responsibility) If I choose to live a very public life, I'm going to get spammed. If I choose to live a very private life, I won't get any email at all. I need to learn how to choose my own level (with perhaps a little guidance from my ISP).

And the second part... I can choose my own net community I don't think 50 million plus people can form a cohesive community. Attempts to regulate the internet are attemps to try this impossibility. Instead of trying to reach out to all the people I don't like on the net to tell them to shut up, I retrench, I find people I like and who think like me, and we form our own community. I live in several such communities.

And the third part... I can choose my own technology I don't have to use newsgroups, and in fact, I don't, because they're full of nonsense. Nor do I jump at every one of the latest net gadgets or games, some of which are transparent attempts to get me on to mailing lists. On the other hand, I use several email identities. One is my public face, and others are (varying degrees of) my private face. And if I'm really annoyed by a spammer, I can just change my public email address without missing any important messages.

The solution to spam is, and must be, like the internet, distributed, and driven by personal protocol. No other approach will work.

Stephen Downes


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