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Re: Economics of SPAM [Was: Micorsoft's Sender ID Authentication......?]
- From: Barry Shein
- Date: Mon Jun 13 14:44:51 2005
On June 11, 2005 at 20:34 email@example.com (John Levine) wrote:
> >I therefore assert there is no technical solution to spam.
> I think you're preaching to the choir here.
> >What will stop it is some sort of new economic model, billing for
> >e-mail (yeah yeah some reasonable amt "included"),
> Unfortunately, that's a technical solution, because it requires that
> we invent some sort of technology that can track all the mail, assign
> responsibility for postage, and do the settlements. As I've been
I think it's disingenuous to label a billing system as another example
of a technical solution to spam, it begs the word "solution" in
exchange for "technical requirements" of a completely different
nature, i.e., a billing system, not quite the rocket science of the
automated, near-perfect spam-classifier a spam "technical solution"
implies. No doubt it has its challenges, what doesn't?
It's also a straw man to posit a particular billing system and
conclude that model would be impossible to implement.
But to make that argument one has to go from the claim that spam
classification is analogous to building an email billing system (i.e.,
both "technical" solutions) to the claim that it's also AT LEAST AS
DIFFICULT, or else the point fails. I think that leap begs
deconstruction. If it's easier to build and implement a billing
system, with policies acceptable to most and desirable results, then
the opposite point succeeds.
So, three points:
1. If a particular billing/business model presents difficulties then
we might have to consider a different model, others are possible
(hence, straw man of e-postage etc.)
2. It would seem to say, for example, the long distance voice billing
system is impossible since it would seem to have many of the same
qualities you delineate as insurmountable obstacles.
Most importantly the big difference between those billing systems and
e-mail is that there are billions and billions of dollars in those
voice billing systems and the systems they support. There is very
little money in e-mail, relatively speaking, except indirectly as a
bundled add-on to sell a more general service (ip connectivity.)
My thinking is that money talks, b.... walks, and problems don't seem
so insurmountable when there is money involved versus checking the
free software lists occasionally to see if someone has come up with a
little better filter in their spare time.
This, I would claim, is why we've seen such vigorous action from the
likes of RIAA v. piracy in a small fraction of the time we've had spam
as a problem: There's money on that table, lots of money.
One might dislike or disagree with that activity but that's neither
here nor there, the point is: Put the gas in tank (money) and the
engine runs, and w/o it one gets to fret about how difficult and
untenable it is to push the vehicle and tries to imagine a world where
every destination is downhill.
3. Finally, the e-mail system has changed in many significant ways to
(mostly ineffectively) react to the spam problem, from using
third-party filter services to declaring all sorts of formerly
legitimate behavior as no longer acceptable (e.g., open relays being
the relay owner's choice) and vast swathes of new end-user software
and software changes to existing MUAs/MTAs to respond to spam,
So, to say that no change of significance can occur to accomodate a
billing system, if that were indeed the solution, is also
disingenuous. Tail / Dog / Wag. At best that's a platitude, easy to
agree with in the abstract but possibly impossible to accomodate.
> If it's OK with you, I'd rather skip the epostage vaporware and move
> directly to the enforcement. Most spammers are breaking multiple
> laws, even the inane CAN-SPAM act, now.
> Where I think technology can help is to make it easier to build cases
> against spammers that will stand up in court. I was the
> Commonwealth's technical expert in the criminal case against Jeremy
> Jaynes, and it was clear that kind of prosecution is much too
> expensive to work against any but the very largest spammers who are
> targeting recipients that are motivated to spend their own money to
> help prepare the case.
I am glad to see such efforts.
But I suspect that until there's some real money on the table the
efforts will continue to be frustrating.
Certainly one of the sirens of the justice system is that if one can
get THEIR problem criminalized then they can compel action by their
govt, at that govt's expense, to solve the problem.
This is one reason why there is always such a non-stop clamor to
criminalize this or that everywhere in this society; it tries to
obligate someone else (the govt) to expend money and resources on a
problem and let the rest of us get back to our own lives.
Sometimes that's exactly correct, certainly. Oftentimes it's nothing
other than an attempt to get someone else to pay the bill or avoid
some hard thinking, or hard work.
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