Spam Markets

If we want to eliminate spam, we should attack the market, not the medium. Andy Lester argues that content filtering is a counterproductive failure which diverts efforts from a real solution. I think he is mistaken.

Spammers are in business to make money. If we can reduce their profitability, we will reduce spam. Content filtering forces spammers to obfuscate their messages and to discard virtually all of the design tools used by advertisers to influence their audience. This surely reduces their market, and a smaller market will have fewer spammers.

Similarly, laws – even if not global – are not useless. If spammers must go overseas, that costs them money; it may also make filtering more effective. If their suppliers are liable, or the credit card companies, their supply is endangered. And if spammers must pay fines or hire lawyers, that costs them also, as does a decreased supply of spam-friendly ISPs.

These things work together to make spam uneconomical (increased security on PCs is certainly part of the solution). Even together, they may not be enough to eliminate it. But we haven’t even tried: our laws are feeble or non-existent.

The alternative, the approach that can wipe spam from the face of the planet, may require that we discard the potential for anonymity and hand security and trust to a central authority. There may be other solutions, but those who solve the problem may have a lot to gain from taking control. For the rest of us, it is a high price to pay.

We don’t have to eliminate spam. Two spam messages per day are qualitatively different from two hundred per day. If we can achieve that without rewriting or sacrificing decentralized control of the network, we will have won.