Nobody likes it. It's a wonder anybody still does it. It's what makes some people so leery of ever embracing email and it's what has lead to so many others opening up secondary, 'junk' email accounts. As such, it's also the bane of ISPs and hosting providers everywhere. As of the writing of this article, spam has constituted almost 50% of the content of people's email inboxes and internet users, ISPs, and hosting providers have just about had enough.
By 2007 it is expected that, if no further action is taken against spammers, it will make up closer to 70% of the content of our inboxes. With arrests made, fines paid, and (in some cases) jail time pending, you'd think incidents of spam would finally be on the decline, but we have no such luck.
The first piece of spam was distributed in 1978 (back when the internet was called the ARPAnet and long before the days of competing consumer hosting providers). The first piece of anti-spam legislation was passed in 1997, in Nevada. Other states, like Arizona, have since followed suit. Most anti-spam laws today dictate that:
1. Any unsolicited email must indicate with the letters 'ADV' in the Subject line that it is an advertisement.
2. The sender and recipient not in any way be obfuscated. In other words, it must be perfectly clear who sent the email and to whom.
3. A working 'Unsubscribe' link must exist somewhere in the body of the email.
California, however, seems to be taking the war on spam a step further, designing a bill that permits consumers, internet service and hosting providers and the state to sue spammers for $500 per piece of spam.
Virginia currently boasts the harshest anti-spam law, banning automated spam tools and forged headers/footers entirely, and punishing offenders who either send 10,000 messages in a 24 span of time or earn $1,000 from unsolicited ads with up to 5 years in prison.
Internet service and hosting providers aren't waiting for laws to curb the insidious threat to their livelihoods, taking charge of the spam pandemic in their own ways. Consider Earthlink, who matches all incoming emails against the email addresses in the recipients' address books. If a message is sent from an email address not included, the recipient is notified of the attempted delivery and given several options for how they'd like the message to be dealt with, both in the moment and in the future.
By this method, Earthlink and other internet service providers and hosting providers with similar 'challenge-response' systems in place obtain that very approval from their clients for delivering each email message that spammers, by definition, lack. Though some consumers may be irritated by having to actively participate in the unending process of eliminating spam from their inboxes, the method itself is extremely successful in reducing incidents of spam, in some cases, to almost zero.
Other hosting providers are taking the issue to court. In response to 8 million customer complaints, America Online (AOL) - which reported that in a single 24-hour period in March of last year its email filters had rid users' inboxes of 1 billion pieces of spam - has filed at least 5 separate lawsuits against spammers.
Hopefully spammers are less invulnerable than the cockroaches you might say they emulate. In the meantime, it'll be up to legislators, email clients, internet service and web hosting providers, and consumers like us to stand vigilant against them. While waiting for the courts and the government to do what they can to take care of the problem, you should take it upon yourself, at the very least, to make sure that both your internet service provider and, if you run one or more websites, your hosting providers include free spam prevention technology for their customers.
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