- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

E-mail spam begins to be tiresome. Something needs to be done about it. According to the antispam company Brightmail, spam now accounts for 56 percent of e-mail, compared with 7 percent two years ago.

Is there a solution to this problem?

President Bush on Tuesday signed into law the first federal effort to stop unsolicited e-mail. The law makes it a crime to send e-mail with false headers, requires marketers to let recipients opt out of receiving spam and punishes spammers with jail time and fines.

Opponents of the federal law say it will do little to stop spam because the practice is too lucrative and too easy to mask.

The First Amendment objection to outlawing spam, that it contravenes the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, is nonsense. Even assuming that spammers have a constitutional right to send you spam, you have no constitutional duty to read it.

As part of the new federal law, the Federal Trade Commission is given 18 months to study the feasibility of a do-not-spam list. This could include requiring marketers to tag their e-mail with “ADV” for advertisement.

It is said that a lot of spam comes from overseas, so that cracking down in the United States won’t accomplish much. Don’t bet on it. Civilized countries are annoyed and will likely pass similar laws. Then give individuals the right to refuse e-mail. Laws making the operation of open relays a felony would help.

One thing that can help stop spam comes from Yahoo.com. For $30 a year you can get what Yahoo calls MailPlus. This offers a couple of highly worthwhile antispam features. The first is spam filters that work well, though not perfectly.

The second is the disposable e-mail address, which allows you to create a separate e-mail address that absorbs spam. When that e-mail fills up, dump it and start another one.

I’ve simplified this a bit. For example, you can set up Yahoo folders that receive all mail to a particular disposable address. Yahoo says it will soon have a service allow you to have a folder that will receive only e-mail from people listed in your address book.

Here is another idea that might help people who have Web sites. The trick is to find a way to change your address faster than spammers can harvest it.

I run a Web site that has over 11,000 e-mail subscribers and draws a larger number of unique visitors weekly.

Both the newsletter version and the Web site have “Write Fred” buttons with an e-mail address behind them. The addresses were of course harvested by spammers. I was getting a couple of hundred spams a day. Now I get virtually zero. How?

First, I added both to the newsletter and the Web site a note saying that the only way to write me was to use the “Write Fred” button: Using the e-mail “Reply” button wouldn’t work (because I blocked the return address in Outlook).

The way my Web host works is that any mail coming to any address at fred.com is forwarded to me. So I make the “Write Fred” button address [email protected] I set Outlook to accept this and delete everything else.

When [email protected] starts collecting spam, I change the address to, say, Batwoman and set Outlook to block everything else. This takes five minutes. Spam to Batman gets deleted. It works. I get maybe three spams a day now.


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