RE: Junk mail and rotting web (SPAM)
Mon, 1 Feb 1999 09:25:50 -0800

James D. Wilson, <>, writes, regarding spam:
> What to do?
> [...]
> 2. Lobby your state senators/representatives for strong anti-spam
> legislation in your state which includes prison time for
> knowingly/intentionally transferring the cost of advertisement from
> the sender to intermediate networks and the end users. Class C felony
> would do the trick.

Is this really a solution in keeping with Extropian philosophy? Do you want to throw people into prison because they sent you some information which you didn't want to receive?

I see serious problems in making unsolicited commercial email illegal. It sets a number of dangerous precedents. Email is a protocol which we voluntarily engage in. Spammers are using the protocol in a manner in which we allowed but did not intend. Throwing people in jail for this is going to mean that using any information protocol in the future will be fraught with danger. There will be gray areas in terms of what is intended and what is not intended, and it ends up making the laws capricious and enforced at the whim of judges and prosecutors.

There is also the problem of providing different rules for commercial and personal email. Presumably we don't want to throw someone in jail because he sends a personal, unsolicited email, to someone else. It is only "commercial" unsolicited email that we want to criminalize. But we can't draw a clean line between the personal and commercial aspects of our activities. Especially in the future, I believe we will be able to have more autonomy and independence in how we structure our lives, so that what we do personally and commercially may not be so different.

Every posting I make is an advertisement for me. I have gotten jobs in the past based solely on people having read my postings on various topics and deciding that I am knowledgeable and write well. As we become more of an information economy this will become much more common. If spam is criminalized, I might be thrown in jail just for responding to a question which was widely posted.

The EU has privacy laws which require companies not to remember certain things about their customers. I'm not sure how they apply to individual businessmen. Do these laws claim to regulate the contents of people's minds? Is it only in the commercial sphere that people must be forgetful? What will happen when people are able to extend their own memories with technological aids? The philosophy of this approach is completely misguided.

I would prefer to see methods which address the problem directly within the framework of the protocol, based on technology, rather than threats of prison. Filtering and blocking systems are becoming available, and if unsolicited commercial email continues to grow as a problem, they should improve in sophistication and capability.

Frankly, I don't think UCE is that bad a problem right now. I get 200-300 pieces of email a day, and only about 5-10% is spam. I delete spam instantly; there is no need to peruse it carefully. Just the format of the message on the screen is usually enough to give it away, and if not, the first line of the message does so. It is a very small effort compared to reading and handling the bulk of my email. (I do have spam filters, but the benefit from running them is so slight that I don't even bother any more.)

The fact that filtering software is not a top seller is a strong indication that most people don't care about spam. You have a small group of very vocal complainers who seem to object on philosophical as much as practical grounds. They are offended that advertisers are able to send mail without paying for it, just like everyone else.

Rather than try to change the world by creating a new class of criminal behavior and throwing yet more people in jail, we should work on cooperative approaches by which people can solve the problem on their own.