Hands down, email is the most widely used and loved computer
application brought to life by the Internet.
According to the publication ‘Messaging Today’ (2000 Electronic
Mailbox Report – Feb. 21, 2001), “Email is the most successful
communications technology since the television, and in a few
years will even surpass that. There are currently more than 891
million email accounts in use Worldwide and 440 million in the
U.S. alone – with an average of more than 4 email accounts per
While more than 200 million of us use and enjoy email, there
are a few thousand people abusing the system and damaging the
communication potential of email for the rest of us.
SPAMMERS ARE THE ENEMY OF US ALL!
The most common forms of email abuse are as follows:
– Using email harvesters (software which gathers email
addresses from the Internet for the purpose of sending
– Selling the addresses gathered from an actual opt-in email
list to someone who the recipient did not give contact
permission to personally.
– Buying the Millions CD’s and then requiring people to
opt-out of email, rather than to opt-in to the email.
– Providing remove addresses that do not work.
Generally, the persons using these spam techniques are morons
who are simply too lazy to learn how to develop an honest
online business or too impatient to build a business that will
last a lifetime. Let us not forget that “moron” is the key word
here since a spammers business will not generate enough income
to justify the cost of doing business the outlaw way.
LAZY LIVES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STREET!
Spammers spam because they are too lazy to build an online
business the old-fashioned way — with honesty and integrity.
As a result of the spammers obnoxious laziness, the public
has been confronted with the growing nuisance of hundreds of
spam messages in their email boxes on a daily basis! I have
filtered more than 100 pieces per day to my trash bin, and I
still receive another 200 plus messages per day that I have
not set up filters for yet.
While I will admit that spammers are truly annoying, I must
confess that the general public has created new problems for
all of us! In the war against spam, email account holders
constantly suggest that their ISP’s must deal with the spam
issue for them.
By putting the responsibility of controlling spam on the
shoulders of ISP’s, rather than hitting the delete key
ourselves, we have opened a whole new can of worms.
In truth, ISP’s cannot do too much to stem the tide of spam.
Yet, with so many angry customers, ISP’s felt a strong need
to find some kind of solution to the problem.
ISP’s had one of two options:
– RBL (Realtime Blackhole List) http://mail-abuse.org/rbl/
– Installing Email Filters
Neither is a perfect solution to the spam problem… In fact,
both are actually very poor solutions to the spam problem!
HOW SPAM FILTERS WORK
To understand the quandary created by the use of filters in the
war against spam, we must first understand how spam filters
It is important to understand that filters are actually
Software is not intuitive!
While a few software applications may seem intuitive, the
illusion exists only because the mind of the programmer was
able to foresee your desires for the use of the software.
Filtering software exists only as a set of rules to determine
the likelihood of a message being spam. Here is an outline of
some of the basic rules that spam filtering software follows:
- If the origination email server is different from the email
server of the sender’s default email address, then it is
- If the email is delivered to more than 25 people, it is
- If the email originates from a specific server, then it is
likely spam. (This is the only rule that the RBL follows.)
- If the email originates from a specific country TLD
(top-level domain), then it is likely spam.
- If certain words appear in the Subject or Email Body, then
it is likely spam. (This is where the real problems begin!)
THE PANDORA’S BOX OF THE SPAM WARS
ISP’s who choose the filter option will either install a filter
on incoming email only, outgoing email only or a combination of
With the fifth basic rule in the spam filtering software that
most ISP’s use, each ISP has a list of “spam words” that the
software scans for.
A few of the simpler, more obvious “spam words” follow:
The first time I had experienced the ugly filter problem was
with my first ezine. My ezine was a computer support publication
and upon the introduction of a major virus, I tried to send
instructions to my list on how to identify the virus and to
repair its damage. Unfortunately, my list server had blocked
all messages that mentioned the name of the virus. (Never mind
that the actual payload email never mentioned the given name
for the virus!)
My second experience was in trying to send an article to a
friend because I felt the content of the article was important
for my friend to have. After seven attempts, I finally realized
what the blocked “spam word” was. If you can believe it, the
blocked word was Amazon.com !!!
Within the last 30 days, I had two outgoing emails blocked by
my own ISP.
The first was being delivered to a client of mine to inform
them that I had received their payment. The subject of the
email was “Payment Received” (a common subject of spam
The second email hinged on an article I tried to deliver for
another client. The dreaded “spam word” was “gold” !!! We
had to change the name of the article to get the article past
my own ISP’s filters.
THE PROBLEM IN A NUTSHELL
Richard Lowe, the owner of http://www.Internet-Tips.net says,
“The Internet is communication. It’s as simple as that.”
The problem with ISP filtering is that the ISP cannot know
what we want to read and what we do not want to read. A single
ISP has clients who use the Internet for business, health,
family, research or any of a dozen different purposes.
The person who wants to use the Internet for family
communications usually has no interest in business topics.
And the online business person may have no interest in
family tree software or health products.
Yet, the ISP has no choice but to block all kinds of “spam
words” for the full range of communication subjects.
As a result, the family person may not see the information
concerning family tree software or other items regarding home
life, and the business person may not be able to receive
information vital to the operation of their business.
THE SCOPE OF THIS PROBLEM
We email junkies tend to subscribe to ezines covering a wide
range of personal preferences. Unfortunately, a large number
of ezines are being blocked by ISP’s because ezines tend to
meet at least two of the criteria built into most spam
filters (#1, #2 and sometimes #5).
Once again, the fifth basic rule is the dangerous one.
Spammers are using more and more common words in their
mailings that the ISP’s are beginning to block.
I can almost guarantee that if your own ISP was to turn off
their spam filters for a month, you would get to see for the
first time a large number of ezines that you subscribed to
way back when, but have never seen before.
Sure, you would see a large increase in the spam coming into
your email box, but you would also see all of the mail that
you want to receive that you have not been receiving.
WHERE SHOULD WE GO FROM HERE?
If we rely upon our ISP’s to do the filtering for us, then we
are committing ourselves to receive only the information that
our ISP’s filters are able to let us receive. It is as simple
It is like the news pundits on television say about the war on
terrorism, “We have a choice between freedom and security. The
more of one we have, the less of the other we will have.”
We have two choices:
- We turn back the tide of ISP controlled communication and
accept the responsibility of setting up our own filters to
eliminate the garbage in our inbox.
- Or, we continue to rely upon our ISP’s to filter the spam
by adding new words to their “spam word” lists, eliminating
all personal control from our personal communications.
TURNING BACK THE TIDE WILL REQUIRE SOME CONCERTED EFFORTS
Our ISP’s have been asked for so long to be our “Big Brother”
to stem the tide of spam. ISP’s have come to the point of
believing that we are children who need to be protected from
the “morons” who are destroying this incredible communications
To turn back this tide, we must be ready and willing to
accept the personal responsibility of controlling our own communications.
First, we must learn to use the tools included in our email
software that permit us to set up our own filters. Once we have
the basic understanding of how to set up our own email filters,
we must progress to step two.
In step two, we must contact our ISP and let them know that we
want to be responsible for ourselves. Our ISP must understand
that we DO NOT want them to run spam filters on their email
servers. We must declare that we do not them to baby-sit our
communications for us. We must emphasize that we want to decide
for ourselves what we want to read and what we do not want to
read! We must emphasize that we would rather use our delete
keys, than to rely upon their filters to not block any of our
You and I alone will not be able to convince our ISP’s to
ditch the policy of acting as our “Online Big Brother”. But,
when enough of us have banded together and made our demands
for open communications clear, ISP’s will have to take notice
and turn off their filters for fear of losing their customer
If we permit ISP controlled filters to continue to grow
unabated, the filters will eventually eliminate the real
value of email as a communications tool.
We must take a stand to reverse the focus of the War Against
Spam! We must take a stand now to reverse the tide, or we risk
the very real death of email communication and the Internet!