A couple of weeks ago, I solicited your ideas on what to do about spam and spammers, and offered a pretty nice prize as part of the deal: "Better yet, drop me a line to tell me what we can do about spammers. Better still, what we *should* do about spammers. The best idea will win a complimentary registration to our Spring Conference in beautiful Amelia Island, Fla., April 10-13." True to your always-generous form, you responded with some terrific ideas, many of which can be read here. And it was fascinating to see that almost all of the solutions you submitted fell neatly into one of four clearly defined sets: severe punishment for spammers and their knowing enablers; deep-technology solutions; widespread education for users; and levying charges on E-mail messages to make spamming prohibitively expensive for the loathsome bastards to conduct.
But before getting more deeply into what you had to offer in those areas, I'd first like to congratulate the winner: Benjamin Vogel, IT director at Protect-all Inc. Benjamin offered not only an overview of what's been tried and why it has failed, but also some firsthand experiences on an approach and product that have combined to reduce the volume of spam infiltrating Protect-all's network by 95%. Our congratulations go out to you, Benjamin, and we look forward to seeing you at the InformationWeek Spring Conference in less than four months. For those wishing to see the full version of his winning ideas, click here.
So let's first take a look at those advocating severe or even extreme punishment as a deterrent (and in some cases, I think the writers were less interested in deterrence than in retribution--the frustration reflected in many of these letters is quite palpable; this avenging category also accounted for more than 40% of all the letters you sent). Among their ideas: "...send in a U.S. Marine expeditionary force to one of their physical locations ... helicopter gunships, 500-pound bombs ... other spammers will have to determine if their despicable act is worth the ultimate price" (thank you, Patrick Heslin); "send the spammers to work and live in ...a place where there is limited technology allowed, so that they have no electricity and no computers. ... Teach them the real meaning of work" (thank you, Candy Hetzler); "...they could then be ... rushed off to that place in Cuba. We will never have to hear from them again. ... Feed the world--Soylent Green, anyone?" (thank you, Stephen Hill); "Another approach is one used by the old English Navy. I refer to fleet whippings, which involved sending the wrongdoer around to every ship in the fleet for a taste of the cat-o-nine-tails" (thank you, Norman R. Dotti); "Put them in a secured software camp where they work eight hours a day at spam-detection and intervention. Time off for creativity and keeping one jump ahead of their former cronies. These guys maybe be cowardly and malicious, etc., but they are also creative and intelligent" (thank you, Lynn Hogarth); "...make address spoofing, subject-line jumbling, subject-line falsification and obfuscation, and the addition of nonsense words in the body of an E-mail to evade spam-filtering software a felony punishable by a mandatory five-year prison sentence in a work gang in Alabama" (thank you, Scott Zielsdorf); "They will each invest five years of hard labor, 18 hours per day, seven days a week, removing the filth, Rolex-like watch pitches, Coach-like handbag offers from the mailboxes of every person, firm, corporation, and educational institution affected by their spam ... no paroles, no plea-bargaining, etc." (thank you, Kathy Scheessele); and, "The dumb terminal will display one spam E-mail message at a time, and the spammer must then delete the message using only a keyboard (no mice allowed). The spammers' 'jail time' is ... based on deleting one spam message per second over a 10-hour day. A typical sentence would be three years--I am sure after deleting that many E-mails, the spammer would be cured of any desire to spam or even look at a computer screen for quite a long time" (thank you, Jeffrey A. Romeo, who, by the way, knows a thing or two about justice: He works in information services within the Department of Justice of one of our great 50 states).
Then we have those who believe technology is the only approach to take: "I believe spam will be a problem until we dump SMTP E-mail in favor of a new XML-based messaging system. Businesses are doing incredible things using Web services. E-mail needs to become such a service" (thank you, Ken Gregg); "Would it be conceivable to adapt the OSI mail engine, X.400, to TCP/IP and evolve it in the same way? As I remember, X.400 had a number of features to assure that the sender was traceable" (thank you, Jim White); and then three remarkably similar variations of a single simple theme: first, "Isn't there a way to send a reply message to the spammer saying that the address is no good?" (thank you, James A. Olson); second, "...an E-mail tool that simply returns the message to the source, with a header that says something to the effect of, 'not interested.' If every E-mail provider built this capability into their E-mail software, it wouldn't take long for spammers to be inundated in their own filth" (thank you, George Archibald); and third, "Instead of servers just filtering and dropping spam out of E-mail, send each unwanted message back to the spammer with a message, 'Returned to Sender.' ... It would give the spammers a taste of their own medicine and hopefully flood their systems in direct proportion to the amount of spam they generate" (thank you, Bob Bucciferro).