Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spam Smarts?

Charles Arthur, writing in today's Guardian, points out that spam is down and argues that the reason is two-fold:

1) Anti-spam technology has become more sophisticated.
2) People are now less likely to be fooled by spam, making it less profitable.
The first reason I can buy. And for many people, although not all, spam blocking software (whether you know it's there or not, it is, and it's stopping spam from reaching you) has made an enormous difference in what their inboxes look like on a day to day basis.

But the second reason I find harder to swallow. Arthur writes that savvy emailers have become adept at filtering the credible mail from the spam.
Similarly, common sense suggests that unheard-of stock probably won't boom; and I think that after the stock market deceptions of the 1990s, people won't get fooled again. (The volume of spam touting stocks doesn't necessarily indicate that people are buying them - only that people trying to pump them have hired a spammer to spread the word.)

I'm sorry, but I disagree. As long as there are people offering to make you rich for a few easy mouse clicks or a small up front investment there are going to be people willing to accept (and to empty out their wallets in the process).

While it's true that we may be slowly developing a form of institutional knowledge that allows us, as email users, to implicitly identify and reject spam in our inboxes I can hardly agree with Arthur's conclusion: "Spam hasn't been solved. But I think our attitude to it could be."

To quote the great American showman P.T. Barnum, "there's a customer born every minute." Barnum is often incorrectly believed to have said "there's a sucker born every minute." From the point of view of the spammer, it's not clear that there's all that much difference.


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