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News in the battle against spam

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As seen on The Times Online

Microsoft due to miss key deadline for beating spam

On 24th January 2004, Bill Gates (that chap with a few billion dollars in the bank) said we would have fixed the problem by 2006 and according to the article on the BBC site we'd have it fixed within 2 years of 24th January 2004. At the time of writing however, it is clear that this was wild optimism and any chance of defeating spam remains a far distant prospect.

Internet Engineering Task Force gets a bit stuck. Can anyone help them?

OK, so it won't be the first time a large computer company delivered a product late, however this time the underlying problem is a lot more serious than than a few programmers with large stock options losing touch with customers. This time even the independent Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) set up by the Internet Society in 2003 hasn't had any news to report for nearly two years - check out their news site.

Maybe they're hard at work devising new standards that will protect us from spam?

Well, they are working on new standards, it's just taking a very long time indeed and meantime we all suffer. Will there be a solution before another 12 years of spam have passed?

Where we are really at with beating spam then?

On 16th Jan 2006 I posted an enquiry to the Internet Engineering Task Force email list to determine the current status. I've been on this mailing list since May 2003, two months after the anti-spam research group was set up. In that time my posting produced more replies than most other topics going back many months. Not surprising really from a group whose best practices list was wound up in 2003 due to lack of support.

The comments to my posting enquiring why we're not making much headway against spam were (links go to the actual quotes on the mailing list archive so you can see for yourself)

  1. Because spam is an economic problem and the economics do not make it worth fixing.
  2. Because we - for the same values of "we" that are "letting" it still be a problem - don't care enough to invest the resources necessary to make it go away.
  3. spam is not much of a user problem
  4. we don't know how to make progress
  5. a small number of extremely well thought out and intelligent proposals which are being suffocated by attempts to assert some form of commercial control over them and a lack of cooperation.
  6. ISPs make money out of spam through telephony charges therefore there is not much incentive for the spam to stop. Paraphrased comments from this email.

I was fairly surprised by these replies. I'm not trying to put down the people on the list here, they were honest enough to give their opinions but a lot more momentum needs to build if the intelligent proposals being put forward are ever to get implemented in the short term.

What we want is some debate that makes headway rather than getting stuck. Please join in the debate by contributing here.

If you support all this, please sign The Spam Petition. We also have an associated spam petition competition.

Last updated: 30 January 2006. Contact me