House Passes Anti-Spam Bill
November 22, 2003 8:11 AM   Subscribe

House Passes Anti-Spam Bill Alas, if it passes it will not likely call for death penalty. Can it work or at least help, or is a ban too easily gotten around?
posted by Postroad (21 comments total)
It's a great idea, but how can they technically stop the identical spam emails sent from multiple email addresses? Everyday I get at least 20-60 that are exactly the same spam message but all sent from different--and often foreign--addresses. These are some of them:

How can this law stop foreign email spam?
posted by amberglow at 8:28 AM on November 22, 2003

It's a weak law, with a poor definition of what criminal spam is. While I agree in principle that there oughtta be a law I don't trust a bunch of politicians to be competent to draft it so for practical purposes I'm against spam legislation. Whatever form it would take in the real world would do more harm than good.

The only useful anti-spam law would be one barring the use of email for purposes of any advertising whatsoever. There can't be very much baby in that bathwater.
posted by majick at 8:34 AM on November 22, 2003

There's a lot of baby in that bathwater majick. Not all commercial email is spam, for instance I've signed up for an occasional mailing on technical books that focus on certain areas. It's an advertisement, there are links below the reviews so that I can purchase the text. Legislation that bans any and all advertising via email would only harm legitimate businesses. Fly by night operations promising to increase the size of your dick by 3 inches overnight aren't too concerned with ignoring any laws, making false claims or lying about the ability to opt-out. Another example of harm from an outright advertising ban would be the destruction of services like yahoo mail, etc. Without the ability to append an ad to the end of your email (which the owner of the mail account consents to by using it) they would all be disappear.

There are technical solutions to spam, but like any technical solution to a technical problem they're only as good as they are current. The latest filtering technology filters say 90% of all spam. The spam marketers figure out a way around this filtering and the effectiveness drops to 20%. The filter makers innovate again and the tables turn.

The only effective way to combat spam is really by destroying their market. If spam doesn't result in sales then spam will die. The only way to do this is to ensure that people start to equate spam with scams. I don't know how to do this, people are still bilked over the phone and phone scams are about as old as the phone itself.
posted by substrate at 8:48 AM on November 22, 2003

"I've signed up for an occasional mailing..."

I'd go so far as to say that a mailing list you've opted into probably isn't "advertising." Marketing, perhaps, but not advertising. Communication in the course of doing business with an establishment is, at least on the surface, not the indiscriminate carnival barking I associate with the term "advertising."

That said, I would be perfectly happy to see your two examples of collateral damage -- opt-in marketing and the death of free webmail -- if it could put a huge dent in the volume of real spam. That's the problem with any commons: some asshole is going to come along and ruin it for everyone in the name of a momentary disproportionate gain, and then the only good response is to take the commons away lest it be further abused.

"The only effective way to combat spam is really by destroying their market."

This, I'm afraid, is as much a fantasy as my wishing up above for a law to nuke spam from orbit. More so, perhaps. Stupid human gullibility can not be eliminated nor legislated against. Ever. A great number of people out there are too stupid to live, but they aren't criminals. Frankly I'd rather punish people for being exploitive assholes than just plain everyday idiots.
posted by majick at 9:08 AM on November 22, 2003

If the government would just release the pills they're sitting on that will make our joints grow or our stomachs shrink, then we'd have a legitimate source for these kinds of services, and we wouldn't have to rely on kind strangers e-mailing us their offers.

There are a bunch of companies I want to get e-mail from (well, not a bunch, but some). There are a number of companies I don't particularly want to hear from, but I know they respect my wishes and will stop mailing me if I ask. Those two cross over for individual tastes. One person's category A is another persons category B.

Any law will only hurt those legitimate businesses who are trying to do the right thing. It won't do anything at all to impact "hot lolita action" or "little blue pills cheap".
posted by willnot at 9:11 AM on November 22, 2003

This bill will effectively legalize spam as long as those who send it follow the rules. Which many won't, since they're shady operators anyway. Look how many illegal and deceptive products they advertise (newsflash: short of surgery, there's no way to make that body part longer). That's why the "do not email" list element won't work. Plus it overrules the tougher state laws already in effect that allow recipients to sue spammers.

In short, it won't work. Remember that when you see Billy Tauzin patting himself on the back en route to taking Jack Valenti's place.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:14 AM on November 22, 2003

What I fear most is the natural progression of spam's only solution. It's quite possible that balkanized systems which seek to end spam through a per message tax will emerge. The profit model is there to reimburse your normal emailer after they demonstrate proper behavior, and tax the hell out of spammers that wish to communicate to this email "province." Once micropayments are effective, a system built on this model could subsist on the float of pending reimbursements. Do you want such a system in the hands of one organization? Do you want to jump through the hurdles of communicating to an individual within another gated community?
posted by machaus at 9:33 AM on November 22, 2003

"It won't do anything at all to impact [real spam]"

I don't agree it would have no impact at all, although I do recognize that it will hardly eliminate spam completely. Spam's not that profitable for the spammers themselves -- who number relatively few -- to risk hard time.

"Once micropayments are effective..."

This is an awfully obtuse way of saying "when monkeys fly out of my butt."

Guh. I'm hogging the comment box. Pardon me, it's best if I step aside now.
posted by majick at 9:48 AM on November 22, 2003

i doubt this legislation will make a dent in my spam situation. i get about 20 spam messages a day. [the isp's filters capture a bunch more] maybe one doesn't get snapped up by the spam filter. when i do look in the spam folder the messages some messages tend to be in a cyrilic font. then there are some that are also clearly from an off-shore source.

why this can't work like the do not call list/telemarketing law is email is a lot harder to trace than a phone call. also, most telemarketers are 'legitimate' in terms of operating in accordance to the law. spammers, on the other hand don't let little things like the law get into the way.

my guess is this legislation will result in zero reduced spam. like the technical solution, the true culprits will move outside the reach of u.s. govt and spam away. legit companies will have us all re-opt in to their lists. but i'm sure i'll keep getting offers to get v1agra and a larger, hotter tool. my favorite spam: spam offering a solution to spam.
posted by birdherder at 10:25 AM on November 22, 2003

I'm not optimistic about legal solutions to spam.

My own feeling is that spam could be limited greatly by making it expensive to send--not through a micropayment scheme, necessarily, but through other technical tricks.

The one I've heard that sounds most promising is "throttling" the SMTP connection--while a message is coming in that looks spammy, the receiving server reduces the connection rate to a trickle. This allows the message to get through, but really makes it unfeasible to send spam. Another is to automatically and repeatedly ping any URLs contained in a spam message, driving up the bandwidth costs of the advertisers. This, obviously, could be gamed and poisoned, but with some work could be viable.
posted by adamrice at 10:50 AM on November 22, 2003

what we need to do is find out who actually buys things advertised from spam, and take their computers away.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:53 AM on November 22, 2003

Spamhaus has an excellent analysis of the bill. It's awful. Soon most spam you get will have a footer that says "This is legal e-mail and is protected by US law. Slanderous complaints to our ISP will result in legal action."

My only hope is that as the spam to e-mail ratio approaches 90% so many billions of dollars will be lost in bandwidth, hardware, manpower, slowed Internet growth, and lost productivity that companies will step up and buy some folks in congress away from the Direct Marketing Association. Whatever the law says, all voters will know in real-time if it is having an effect just by opening their e-mail every morning.
posted by Voivod at 11:00 AM on November 22, 2003

adamrice: Throttling SMTP would only work if all the ISPs, schools, and corporations that are currently being abused as relays by spammers ran it. You and I running it makes zero difference because we're only getting a few spams at a time from the sender. Meanwhile that open relay is sending millions a day without the owner knowing or caring.
posted by Voivod at 11:11 AM on November 22, 2003

signed up for an occasional mailing on technical books that focus on certain areas. It's an advertisement

Would you be willing to just visit a bookmarked web page with the same content from time to time, if, in exchange, you could be spam-free?
posted by scarabic at 11:12 AM on November 22, 2003

Voivod is spot-on.

it's idiocy like this bill that will only hasten the unleashing of pandora.

(more abuse vs. abuse here)
posted by dorian at 11:20 AM on November 22, 2003

I say we lift off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by RylandDotNet at 12:04 PM on November 22, 2003

scarabic asked...Would you be willing to just visit a bookmarked web page with the same content from time to time, if, in exchange, you could be spam-free?

Why should someone have to make that choice? I would rather have company-x send me an email when there's something I'd be interested in [based on my opt-in preferences] than have to go check websites from time to time to see if there's something new.

I get close to 99% spam free email through the use of both server-side and client-side tools. The only time my computer will chirp is I get a I want to get. I'm sure over time spammers will be able to tear away at my security, but with smarter mice come smarter mousetraps.

I've had email accounts for over 10 years and remember the good old days when there was no spam. I'd love to return to that. I'd also love to go back to the days when 'safe sex' meant you didn't try anything too acrobatic.
posted by birdherder at 12:07 PM on November 22, 2003

Gag. All the time I spent on the phone to my Representatives was obviously a waste. Morons, morons, morons. As with so many tech laws, this one is toothless and useless, with so many special concessions for corporations and none for we users. On my little server, I'd estimate 25% of my traffic is spam. I make no money from it, and pay everything out of pocket. Why, then, am I forced to handle everyone else's attempts to make money?

I see spam as analogous to me coming over to your house and borrowing your car for a business trip without your permission. Thanks to laws like this, though, you can now ask me never to borrow your car again, but only after I've borrowed it. Of course, I could always wear a disguise and borrow it again...
posted by Samizdata at 1:22 PM on November 22, 2003

The reps are going to put a stop to spam right after my dad fills the hole in the ozone with a garden hose.
posted by squirrel at 6:22 PM on November 22, 2003

Voivoid--I take your point, although if AOL, Earthlink, Roadrunner, and a few others started using throttling, spam would still get more expensive to send, or the spammers would have to cross those domains off their list, making their service less attractive to advertisers.
posted by adamrice at 8:22 AM on November 23, 2003

Ah, yes. Let's have the government try and make a legal solution to a technical matter. We know how well that always works. Not to mention the fact that the US just doesn't have jurisdiction. It's the internet. Hello.

Bayesian spam filters are wonderful. Give them two collections of mail -- one known good and one known bad. The filter learns how to build rules based on those samples. The samples can be taken for individual users. 99.5% of spam goes bye-bye and the chance of a false positive is almost nothing. Normal rule-based filters suck, I agree, but this isn't your normal rule-based filter.
posted by amery at 6:29 PM on November 23, 2003

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