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Tuesday, May 27, 2003


There are a number of anti-spam solutions that are best addressed on the server side. Unfortunately, very few users have access to their own mail servers. I, for example, can't set up sendmail rules on Verizon or Apple's servers for my account. Almost all spam countermeasures I have seen in the last 6 months have been on the server side, not the client side - they're useless to me and just about everyone else on the internet. Some of these countermeasures are best left on a server, some are not (a lot require user intervention to train a filter, etc. - that's not always best left on the server, and at the least it requires a user interface in a mail client).

One way of circumventing this lack of control over your mail account is to use a product that acts as a mail proxy, like [POPFile]. Of course, you need to have it run on your computer, it doesn't solve the problems associated with how much bandwidth spam uses, etc. etc. It's not a great way to solve the problem, and again for most users it's useless because it's not transparent enough.

ISPs, especially large ones, do have a lot of things going for them when it comes to combatting spam. Since they have a large subscriber base, they have a potentially large corpus of real-time spams to work with. Some of the free web-based email providers like Yahoo clearly use this to their advantage - Yahoo's spam filtering techniques get better and better. My yahoo account has gotten maybe 2 false positives out of hundreds of visible spams (which it files in a "bulk mail" folder), and it rarely lets spam through. Advogato's system of trust metrics I mentioned before, while it's not well suited to a single user's client email program, a server-side implementation for an ISP could cut down on spam considerably.

Right now my main email account, which I've had for 6 years or so, gets enough spam that it's close to being useless. It's bad enough that I've been tempted to hose it and start over with a new account, and even if I set up mail proxies to act as filters on one of my computers I doubt I'd be able to significantly alter the amount of spam I am getting right now (it doesn't help that I could do a number of cool things on MacOS X to handle spam, but I do most of my email on 8.6 - which leaves out most anything that isn't AppleScript or Perl).

Spam-related laws used to be a good thing, but lately they have been going nowhere. The inly good news I've heard lately is that California is [acutally getting a spam law]. For a long time I've wanted to make the ability to take a spammer to small claims a part of the mail app, and here is just another reason for me to do so (taking a spammer to small claims is easy and profitable in states that support it).

It's tempting to just write a mailserver at this point, since most of the spam problem rests with the server and administrator. SMTP, POP3, and IMAP need to be re-examined as standards to keep up with the spam problem. Everyone knows it's a problem, not that many groups are really looking at how the protocols themselves can address it.

5/27/2003 03:18:00 PM ] [  0 comments  ]
A good quick laugh