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Memo to Spammers: I Surrender

  |  July 30, 2003   |  Comments

When she had to choose between blocking the constant deluge of junk mail or possibly missing another important correspondence or news tip, columnist Beth Cox decided it was time to throw in the towel on her own personal crusade against spam.

I recently returned from a six-day business trip with more or less no access to email (part of that was my own choosing) and found more than 800 emails in my inbox when I fired up the computer.

I spent the better part of an hour separating the wheat from the chaff, until my eyes were bleary. I prefer to do my own email sorting, rather than use filters, because in the past I have deleted legitimate email, or email from news sources or business contacts, just because my delete finger was on automatic pilot.

E-mail as a business tool has been seriously lamed. Even for personal use, email is rapidly approaching the point of either being useless or so shocking as to send one back to the slower and more graceful days of snail-mail letters, perhaps even one artfully written with a classic fountain pen.

If my 85-year-old mother were to sign up for an email account these days, the subject lines alone would appall her.

Everybody else has written about this issue recently, and I was going to write another of my moan-filled treatises on how spam is the end of the Internet as we knew it, but I decided, what’s the use?

I’m a loyal (read lazy) AOL user who never saw fit to change ISPs despite the sneers and jeers of the techno snobs. My theory was always "hey, it’s easy and it does what I want it to do, so why change?" IT should be useful, seamless and ubiquitous, in my opinion - like electricity.

I have to admit, though, that my principal AOL email address, which I have had for about seven years now, is becoming more and more useless to me. In fact, I’d venture to say it is almost completely worthless, thanks to the overflow of spam. And now that I’m a small-business entrepreneur, spam is costing me both time and money.

I recently ran my numbers on the MX Logic spam cost calculator and determined that my fledgling enterprise with me and a partner as the only employees is losing more than $2,000 a year thanks to spam.

Yes, I know that MX Logic wants to sell me their Spam Guard. And a host of other companies (I’m not going to name them all, sorry PR folks) have solutions on the market. That’s not the point.

I actually WANT to see all my email. I want to see what the latest scams and spoof emails look like, and I want to get business communications (story tips, etc.) from complete strangers, so I can’t make use of many of the spam-blocking features that are available to me, even as a lowly AOL user.

Some of the solutions I have tried border on the useless. AOL has this feature whereby one can report spam email and then tell AOL’s network to never, ever let email through from that particular address again.

I spent several months dutifully reporting each spam I got (I’m talking hundreds) and blocking that address. The result was a little like building a sandcastle on the beach. I got to watch as the tide came in and destroyed all the walls.

I tried blocking mail from folks I don’t know, and quickly concluded that I got virtually nothing.

I know I have peculiar needs. I guess I just need to grin and bear it, but now I’m starting to see spam on my other business email accounts, like the one I use for my eBay store.

Why are the spammers so effective?

ActiveState’s new "Field Guide to Spam" has some interesting insights on why it’s so hard for filters and other spam fighters to keep up with the spammers, who are involved in an ever-escalating war using various tricks, encodings and other clever deceptions.

It’s an interesting read if you’re into code. As for me, I’m throwing in the towel. If the national Do Not Spam list becomes a reality, I’ll sign up, I guess. My big fear would be that the list gets hacked, of course, and sold to spammers.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to tap that delete key and just hope I can stay alert enough not to miss too many important emails.

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