What Would This Do To the 'Net?
March 28, 2001 7:15 PM   Subscribe

What Would This Do To the 'Net? Would such legislation be Constitutional?
posted by ParisParamus (13 comments total)
there are factors that need to be addressed with advertisers (goods description, appropriateness of its placing, not being an arsehole about it) before free speech, so it seems fair to me
posted by stuporJIX at 7:27 PM on March 28, 2001

The same bill is needed for my mailbox. The mailbox in front of my house that is.
posted by Zool at 7:56 PM on March 28, 2001

so much legislation isn't Constitutional, why would it matter if this isn't? this is a complete crock:

"The First Amendment gives you the right not only to speak, but the right to refrain from speaking," says Marv Johnson of the American Civil Liberties Union. "To have the government tell you that you will speak in a certain fashion goes against what the First Amendment is all about."

from what little I know the US Constitution is about protecting my life, liberty, privacy, and property (pretty much in that order) and you can't just send people email they don't want without limits because that it infringes on their right to privacy. You've got to have some balance between everyone's rights and everyone's responsibilities. Seems pretty obvious that there needs to be some sort of reasonable limits on free speech. You've got a totally unreasonably low speed limit posted on most State roads and you never hear people flipping out about that like they do about free speech and yet they spend more time on the road than they do talking (typically anyhow).
posted by greyscale at 8:11 PM on March 28, 2001

Privacy, hell: spam is theft. I pay for the bandwidth and disk space, and the more spam they send, the more it costs. This is the same argument used against junk faxes, and soon against junk text messaging.

When they send me junk postal mail, though, they're subsidizing my first-class mail. That, I'm tolerant of.

Disclaimer: I have one very old e-mail address that I'll be getting rid of soon. It was used for a lot of Usenet posting, it was used as a contact address for a worldwide social group, and I was also a Usenet votetaker. At the time it wasn't a big deal. Nowadays, because it shows up on a lot of web pages still, that address gets around 20 spam mails a day, which is about what I get in the aggregate on my yahoo, AOL, hotmail, and current ISP e-mail addresses. It's insane. Oh, and my worldnet.att.net address, which I've had for three weeks, and have put on no lists, is already getting a spam or two a day. I have no idea how.
posted by dhartung at 8:21 PM on March 28, 2001

The legal precedent here (already court tested) is that junk physical mail is completely legal and can't be controlled, but junk faxes and junk calls to cell phones are illegal because the person receiving the unsolicited advertising is forced to pay for them (in the form of paper and air-time respectively). Advertisers can distribute their message freely if and only if they bear the expense of doing so. They do not have the right to deliver their message to you and me if we have to pay for it involuntarily.

Since, as DHartung just pointed out, spam is paid for by the receiver (indirectly through higher rates for their internet service) then it means that spam is equivalent to a junk-fax and not equivalent to junk surface mail.

Therefore, banning unsolicited commercial email would be completely legal and constitutional. Advertisers have the right of free speech but they don't have the right to demand that others pay the expenses associated with their free speech. That's where their rights end.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:37 PM on March 28, 2001

greyscale: do you really mean to equate your rights as a driver with your rights as a human being? (which is what free speech is about)

People get worked up about freedom of speech because it is about much more than 'talking'! Although driving is pretty sweet, especially when you've got a sweet 1979 'am like I do.
posted by chaz at 9:47 PM on March 28, 2001

ISPs should charge the sender for the delivery of unsolicited advertisements. The law should state that a spammer must assume that there is such a charge for delivery to any address unless the spammer finds out otherwise by checking with the ISP before sending the advertisements.

• Profits from such charges would go to the ISPs, who would then be better able to afford offering free services to private users.

• The government, if it wants to help, should help ISPs to track down and punish spammers who try to get around charges for bulk-mail delivery.
posted by pracowity at 11:48 PM on March 28, 2001

[dhartung]: Privacy, hell: spam is theft. I pay for the bandwidth and disk space, and the more spam they send, the more it costs. This is the same argument used against junk faxes, and soon against junk text messaging.

Now, hang on. Please help me (honestly), because this sounds overheated. Spam is theft? Does anyone honestly believe that if we legislated spam out of existence (or at least made it prohibitively punitive to indulge in), that your ISP would suddenly lower its rates or that your disk space would become that much freer? Emails are ridiculously low on bandwidth usage (right?--I'm not trying to start a fight, I'm genuinely asking), and what happened to spamblocks? Or delete buttons? I have over a thousand emails sitting in my Inbox, none of them spam, but I could get rid of all of them in one second. I understand that spam is a bothersome pain in the ass, but the sort of measures being discussed sound a lot like trying to kill a horsefly with a bazooka.
posted by Skot at 8:49 AM on March 29, 2001

I read through this thread, and the direction y'all took it is very disturbing: "ISPs should charge the sender for the delivery of unsolicited advertisements." The inevitable resolution of this argument is that people have to pay a separate fee for every email they send out. Not just spammers. EVERYBODY. That's the only way to make this fair. Which spammers will sidestep by finding a way to do the equivalent of 'bulkmail' in standard postal jargon, while you and I will be doing the cyber equivalent of licking stamps.

No. The answer is not charging the sender for speaking their mind. That's the inevitability, but that's not the answer. What the Internet originally represented for so many, allowing information to finally be truly free, will die the day this happens.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:15 AM on March 30, 2001

> The inevitable resolution


It is not impossible to distinguish between bulk mail and personal, individual mail. One should and could cost money to send; the other could be allowed for free.
posted by pracowity at 3:16 AM on March 30, 2001

Pracowity, not all spam is bulk-addressed. Some spammers create and individually mail each single piece of spam to a single destination. This does, of course, massively increase the amount of bits they upload to their mail host, but at that point it means that the spam is "individual mail".

There are a number of reasons why this is done. In some cases they do it to evade mail filters. (I, myself, have a rule set up to destroy things not specifically addressed to me.) In other cases they do it because they send customized HTML which they can use to link IPs to email addresses.

But the point is that it is possible and is being done now. The difference between spam and non-spam is not a technical one but one of intent, and as soon as you reach that realization you can instantly conclude two things:

1. no mechanical way can exist which will reliably differentiate spam from non-spam, and

2. even when humans are trying to judge it it will be hard in some cases because any judgement of intent involves gray areas.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:44 AM on March 30, 2001

> not all spam is bulk-addressed. Some spammers create
> and individually mail each single piece of spam to a
> single destination.

I know that. But think of virus control.

How a mail provider like Yahoo! could defeat such pains in the arse automatically:

1. Set up a number of fake accounts to monitor the mail that goes to them. Any mail to a person who doesn't exist is by definition uninvited and therefore spam.

2. Use pattern-matching (like they use to look for viruses) to scan for unsolicited mail in the mail provider's in-queue. Delay the delivery of all mail just slightly (a few seconds, maybe a minute) before anything is delivered to anyone. If a load of similar spam is coming through at once, you would be able to identify one and then use it to identify all the others.

3. Mail that matches the pattern is marked as suspected spam.

4. Deliver the mail waiting in the in-queue to the user if the user is logged in. Depending on the user's choice, suspected spam is deleted, delivered to the user's bulk mail directory, or delivered to the user's regular inbox.

5. If the user is not logged in, deliver it to the user's account but leave the messages unsorted until the user logs in, which may not be for ages. That extra time makes it much more likely that spam will be identified as such before it is delivered.

6. When the user logs in, compare the new messages waiting for the user to the patterns in the main database of spam identifying patterns. Now, only when needed, sort the messages into inbox or bulk or trash, according to the user's desire.

• The effort to identify spam could be shared among mail providers. A newly discovered pattern would be distributed immediately to participating mail providers.

• Users would be encouraged to immediately forward spam to an address (such as antispam@yahoo.com). Mail forwarded there would be automatically analyzed (compared to other such submissions), a pattern found, the pattern searched for in the in-queue, and the forwarded message to be analyzed automatically and perhaps flagged as spam.

• If you are not online, logged into your free mail account, and actively searching for new mail in the inbox (rather than writing or reading mail), it doesn't matter how long they hold and analyze your mail before inserting it into your inbox. Most of the time, any delay would go unnoticed.


• There would be a little more processing involved, but costs to the company could be recovered by chasing the spammers and getting the money they are required to pay for unsolicited advertisements. These guys could also go after spammers for mail already delivered but not first identified as unsoliited commercial mail.

• There would be a short extra delay in the in-queue, but this would matter only to people hanging in their inboxes and obsessively refreshing it to see what came in during the last two seconds. Normal people would not see any difference except a significant reduction in spam.


• much spam squashed

• mail provider profits

Maybe some providers already use a system like this. How does Yahoo! determine what goes into the Bulk folder?
posted by pracowity at 3:30 AM on March 31, 2001

Steven Den Beste said:

"The legal precedent here (already court tested) is that junk physical mail is completely legal and can't be controlled"

This is completely false. The Supreme Court has ruled that you do have the right to stop physical junk mail from being sent to you. There are forms at your local post office that you can fill out which legally force anyone sending you mail for any reason to stop. Although the legislation was directed at pornography, in the wording of the Supreme Court decision you can stop someone from sending you "a dry goods catalog" if you want. I've used this mechanism, and guess what? IT WORKS!
posted by muppetboy at 9:36 AM on March 31, 2001

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