Spam Control Considered Harmful

Daniel Karrenberg Daniel.Karrenberg at
Tue Oct 28 11:14:18 UTC 1997

I am worried about the tools we are developing and deploying to control

Some of them are esentially centralsied methods of controlling Internet
content.  Paul's anti-spam feed for instance prevents users of some
providers from seeing spam.  The user has no choice; they cannot opt to
receive spam other than by switching to another provider.  Even worse:
they may not even be aware that they are "missing" some content. 

Combatting spam is considered a Good Thing(TM) by almost everybody here,
including myself.  However the same technology could just as easily be
used to do Bad Things(TM).  Even worse: if it works it demonstrates that
*centralised control* of the content of Internet services like e-mail is
*feasible*.  This will give some people ideas we may not like, and
sometime in the future we may ask ourselves why we have done this.  The
end does not always justify the means.  I hope that methods like the
anti-spam feed will not be taken up widely.  Please consider the
consequences before you use them. 

I stress that I do not question the morality or good intentions of those
involved.  I am just concerned about the almost ubiquitous and
apparently unreflected zeal that spam seems to evoke and the danger of
it making us accept methods we would otherwise despise.  I would prefer
to see more work in technology that is less centralised and gives the
users a choice of the content they wish to see.  Yes this may be harder
to do, but the consequences of deploying the easier methods may be just
too severe. 

Waehret den Anfaengen (beware of the beginnings)


PS: I hope this is more coherent than my contribution at the meeting
yesterday when my brain failed due to jet-lag while my mouth was still
working perfectly ;-). 

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