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Good-bye to middle class ISPs
by Randolf Richardson, December 8th, 2003

Before the internet was a common part of our lives, junk eMail (a.k.a. "spam") didn't exist.  Today, however, junk eMail has become a serious problem for nearly all eMail users.  It's a social problem that hasn't been solved by the law (possibly due to international boundaries), and as anti-spam technology evolves the junk eMailers (a.k.a. "spammers") just find new ways to circumvent it.

So far the most effective solution, from the standpoint of controlling internet usage costs, have been "DNS-based blacklists" which identify eMail servers that are insecurely configured, have a history of sending spam, or other criteria (blacklists have a wide range of listing policies that are usually related to fighting spam).  Unlike postal mail, where the sender pays all the costs up front, with eMail the recipient has to bear some of the expense through higher internet connection fees (plus other factors such as wasted time, extra wear-and-tear on their equipment, etc.).

When an eMail server is blacklisted, communications from it are automatically blocked by other eMail servers configured to use blacklists.  As a result, users receive a notice that their eMail wasn't delivered because it was blacklisted.  Unfortunately many unsuspecting users who have chosen to use the same ISP that a spammer is using are at risk of having their legitimate eMail messages blocked in this manner as long as their ISP doesn't terminate that spammer's accounts and continues to do business with spammers.

Spammers have been relentless in their pursuit of riches at the expense of everyone else and take great pains to avoid blacklists and filters.  They send their spam with no regard for the user's right to consent to receiving it in the first place.  The spam often consists of products that are illegal to sell (e.g., drugs, weapons, pay TV descramblers, etc.), a wide variety of scams and money making/pyramid schemes, sexually explicit content, etc., and to top it off outright lies about so-called "opt-in policies" and laws that don't exist.

Spammers claim they aren't doing anything wrong, and sometimes attempt to belittle the thousands of active spam fighters by contually drawing a picture of a "small group of extremists trying to eliminate freedom on the internet," but what they don't realize is that they're really contradicting themselves by deceptively forcing their garbage into other peoples' eMail systems -- if their claims regarding "freedom" were genuine, then they would only be sending their messages to those who had intentionally exercised their "freedom to choose" to be subscribed in the first place.

Those who fight spam are fighting for peoples' freedom to choose to be subscribed to a mailing list.  It is generally expected that the "opt-in" procedures include measures to prevent mis-typed or fraudulent subscription requests from succeeding by requiring the user to confirm them.

Despite their controversial nature, blacklists have gained tremendous popularity over the years, and if this trend continues at its current pace then the internet will eventually be divided into two classes -- the "upper class" anti-spam ISPs who strongly oppose junk eMail v. the "lower class" spam-friendly ISPs who don't care.  Users who select a lower class ISP won't be able to send eMail to upper class ISPs, and will be forced to switch to the upper class ISPs as a result.  Spammers will be left in a lurch feeling excluded because they will be stuck with a shrinking selection of spam-friendly ISPs who refuse to take the spam problem seriously in order to avoid going out of business.

From many marketers' perspectives, this could be bad news, but it's actually good news for those marketers who value "freedom of choice" with their potential customers because they will only be sending eMail advertisements to those who have agreed to receive them.

Education is the key for eMail users.  As more users become aware of the purpose of blacklists, they will be able to make better informed decisions when choosing which ISP to sign up with by asking about their policies regarding other users on the system who get complaints for sending spam.  ISPs who actually enforce such policies will win in the long run.

Copyright © 2003 by Randolf Richardson,
Inter-Corporate Computer & Network Services, Inc.
http://www.inter-corporate.com/