2.5 billion porn spam e-mails are sent out every day.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
The CAN-SPAM act failed utterly, and we're awash in junk and filth. What can we do?

Oct. 8, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Spam just won't go away. Like most of you, I'm fed up with this enormous waste of time.
   But what can we do to stop all this unwanted junk mail? The answer, unfortunately, is somewhere between "not an awful lot" and "not much." It's practically out of our hands.
   The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which was supposed to force spammers to be honest and ethical, failed to reduce spam in any measurable way. The year the act was enacted, spam was 36 percent of all mail. It's now 40 percent, according to industry figures.
   Worse yet, spam has changed; it's more disgusting than ever before. Figures show that 2.5 billion pornography spam e-mails are sent out every day -- an average of 4.5 for every e-mail address in the world. We seem to be awash with filth.
   Why didn't CAN-SPAM work? The answer is simple. It required spammers to be nice guys. But they weren't, and they didn't voluntarily turn themselves into nice guys.
   Here's what CAN-SPAM told spammers they had to do:
Provide an opt-out or unsubscribe method on every piece of e-mail.
Remove unsubscribed addresses from the mailing list that produced the e-mail within 10 days.
Make sure the postal address of the sender was valid.
Make sure the "From:" e-mail address was valid.
Place an accurate "Subject:" line on each e-mail.
   Some spammers complied partially. I've seen "Click here to unsubscribe" on many pieces of spam. I even saw a few spams that had subject lines that said, "Unsolicited e-mail (spam)."
   But the "Unsubscribe" links aren't trustworthy (the sender might be taking you for easy prey, adding your name to a sucker list), and a subject line that describes a letter as "unsolicited e-mail" doesn't make porn and Viagra ads more appropriate. (Most spam, as we all know, carries entirely misleading subject lines anyway. So much for CAN-SPAM.)
   And accurate "From:" addresses? Somebody's got to be kidding. Addresses were spoofed (faked) in nearly every piece of spam I looked at over the last few weeks. I've even received spam sent TO me that was FROM me. Or from an address that spoofed my address, if you see what I mean. Spoofing is a huge problem.
   I recommend three steps if you're fed up with spam:
   Stop using an unsafe e-mail program. Outlook Express, which gives spammers and scammers access to your private data, is outrageously dangerous, yet many Windows users seem to accept it as if they have no choice. Exercise your choice and install the Thunderbird e-mail software. While you're at it, get away from Internet Explorer if you're a Windows user and install Firefox, the Web browser companion to Thunderbird. Get them both at no cost from www.mozilla.com.
   Use your mail program's built-in spam filter. The No. 1 Windows alternative to Outlook Express, Thunderbird, has a spam blocker in its software. Mail, the No. 1 Apple mail software for OS X Macintoshes, has a built-in spam filter, too. Let them learn from your habits, then set them free to kill off spam automatically.
   Delete anything that is questionable. If you accidentally delete an urgent message from your sister-in-law, don't let it bother you. Your sister-in-law has never sent a truly urgent message anyway, and she'll call you to ask if you've stopped reading your mail. (The answer: "No, but my spam filter must have thought your latest mail was junk.")
   Next week: Identifying e-mailed scams and spoofs the easy way.