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The Beginning Of The End For Spam

Here's a shocking prediction: The volume of spam is going to fall off in 2006. Why? Because it has to. It will outlive its usefulness to spammers. It's become it's own worst enemy, too prevalent to be effective. Spam needs people to open e-mails and attachments, and no matter what new enticements are tried anymore, we don't trust them enough to do their bidding.

Ok, some of us are still learning, but we've all had to deal with spam. We know what it looks like, smells like and feels like, even when it purports to be something else. For most of us, it's more annoying than dangerous, because we toss everything that might be spam. We have to. The attachments are just as likely to come loaded with worms and viruses as come-ons for winning a free I-pod.

Spam will eventually crumple under its own weight. Can those that employ spam for marketing and advertising find the techniques even remotely effective anymore when we just delete what doesn't head straight for the spam bucket?

At this point, you've already asked yourself, twice, what I've been smoking. If you're like me, you're looking to change your ISP yet again because you've just deleted your 83rd spam e-mail before noon. It sure doesn't look like it's going away anytime soon.But that's another reason I think spam is destined for the bone pile. Having threatened to end service, and having followed through on the threats several times, I've noticed that ISPs seem to have problems in waves. When the most recent Sober attack hit, a support rep for my ISP told me to change my e-mail address more often. "Which ones?" I asked, "the one's I've already changed or the one's that I can't change because people still need to find me? How 'bout I just change ISPs, instead?"

I'm always amazed at the response of ISPs. It's like they could care less. I've cancelled service over the phone, via e-mail and directly from an ISP's web site and the response is always the same: "We're sorry to lose your business, please check one of the following reasons for discontinuing the service." There's never an attempt to actually keep my business by fixing the problem.

ISPs will continue to churn customers because their spam filters seem to work for a while and then all heck breaks loose. Customers get upset, change ISPs and the same scenario repeats itself. And by the way, the same thing happens with anti-spam software. One product seems to do the job for a while, but then stops being effective. So we change products or use several anti-spam products at once. It's like getting rid of a stain. You have to keep trying different stain removers until one works, or give up.

But how long can ISPs survive doing business this way? We saw last Friday where Hotmail and MSN users were not receiving their e-mail from senders using Comcast and certain other providers. As a Comcast user, I can personally attest to the stated reason why. Opening up the Comcast gate was like opening up a Sober flood. When virus-infected spam botches up big ISPs like that, the providers that act quickly and effectively can spin the problem off to those that are still trudging through it.

Sure, there will still be those malicious spammers. It's a good way to send a virus to millions of people at once. But did you notice, the recent Sober virus contained in all those fake messages from the CIA, FBI, IRS, etc., didn't seem to cause as much damage this time around because fewer people opened the attachments. OK, a lot of people opened them, but look at the number of messages that went out. It was the largest outbreak ever. At one point, it was estimated that one in every 13 e-mails was Sober-infected. The potential there was huge.

We have started to learn our lesson. We've become skeptical and untrusting, but that's the way we remain uninfected. Now if we can just convince a segment of the male population that those e-mails promising attachments with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie photos don't really contain compromising pictures of the starlets. Your first clue is getting three e-mails with the Paris Hilton promise in the same e-mail download, and six more the next download.

And that's the way we slowly cause the demise of spam. How many things in the physical universe continue to evolve and prosper when they are ineffective? Those with the profit motive will give up first. Those with ill-intent will also look for methods that actually work, but they'll continuing spamming for longer because it annoys us and causes us to write rambling complaints that make them proud of their efforts.

So, 2006 will see the beginning of the downfall for spam. As a form of cyber terror, it will live on until something else takes its place. Terrorists think differently than unscrupulous marketers—not a lot differently—but they're happy if just one person perpetuates their worms and viruses and helps grow their network of zombie PCs. They take joy in associating their work with virus alerts and outbreak statistics.

But spam will eventually join Pet Rocks in the hall of shame as a failed marketing ploy. It is a lot easier to ignore, for most of us, than telemarketers, and like telemarketing, the more you respond, more lists you seem to get on. So, do everything you can to combat it on your end; keep raising heck with your ISPs when the volume increases, and delete it when it gets through.