In what can be seen as an indication of just how big the problem has become, the war against unsolicited email hit the front page of the New York Times today. While not a terribly detailed article, it goes a little bit into the cat and mouse game that spammers and Internet service providers play on a daily basis, and talks about a few of the options that both ISPs and end users have employed trying to stem the tide. It also provides a few overwhelming statistics, such as the fact that 45% of email headed into Earthlink’s mail servers is now junk, and over 70% of that inbound to AOL is unsolicited. (We’ve all had a hint of this huge surge, both from the increasing numbers in our own inboxes and from those who keep us informed about how much crap ends up in their inbox.) The most frequent defense proffered by spammers is that the absolute most they’re forcing users to do is hit the delete button, but these numbers are this argument’s best refutation; there is a hell of a lot of network and hardware capacity that currently has to deal with email that nobody requested and nobody wants, and it’s all paid for by the unwilling recipients in the form of higher access and hardware costs. Luckily, as the numbers continue to rise, and corporate America continues to find itself buried under masses of unwanted email, lobbying for legislative solutions can only become more effective. Until then, though, I recommend continuing to make the spammers’ lives hard on both a business and personal level, by using collaborative mail filtering services, participating in projects that are able to continually adapt to the tactics of the spammers, and engaging in one’s own alternative solutions.
(Incidentally, I’m proud of the Times author for using the domain name example.com in his explanations, since it’s reserved for just this purpose. Too many other people choose random domains for their examples, leading to a lot of spam in the inboxes of the legitimate owners of those domains.)