Revenge of the Spam Slayers

10848 News spam junk mail email software CBS

Learn how CBSNews.com's savvy users combat junk mail in this Against the Grain commentary by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.


The Against the Grain column that fried spam a few weeks ago seems to have cut decidedly with the grain, judging from our extremely full inbox. "Not a single voice in defense of spam, tele-pollution, or junk mail has been heard."

As you would expect from CBS News' brilliant and pragmatic online audience, we got reams of useful and witty advice for combating the assault of the marketers.

One of my favorites was a guerilla tactic for warding off junk mail from Michael Young of Indiana. "I have found a solution for junk mail," he wrote. "They always include a card or envelope for my response which says that first class postage will be paid by the sender on delivery; I just glue it to a brick, put my return address on it, and drop it in the mailbox. It's usually the last I hear from them." I might try gluing the reply card on a pit bull and see what happens.

Most correspondents, however, were primarily concerned with e-mail not snail mail. "Spam is an invasion of privacy, a waste of resources and a general nuisance and it should be illegal," Christopher Parks wrote. That was the consensus view.



An inspiring tale of dedicated and successful anti-spam activism came in from the Upper Left Coast. "I've been filing lawsuits under Washington State's anti-spam law," wrote 23-year-old Bennett Haselton. "And on December 10, after several months of delays and run-ins with court bureaucracy, the cases finally started coming up and being decided, and I got $2,000, collectively, from four defendants." Dude!

"Even though the law can only be used by Washington residents," said Haselton. "I'm hoping that if enough Washingtonians file lawsuits against spammers, it will become so risky and expensive for people to spam that the amount of spam received by everybody will go down."

There were more radical solutions.

"Just do what I do," wrote Mike K. from "Somewhere in Cyberland."

"Most e-mail spam comes with a 'removal link' at the bottom. I choose to apply my baseball theory: First e-mail I don't want - click the removal link and give them a chance. Second email from the same source - click the removal link and give them a second chance."

"Third email from the same source - I keep a copy on CD of some particularly nasty viruses I have culled from fixing computer systems… and forward their entire email back to them along with enough double zipped auto-opening infected attachments that you have a better than even chance of crashing their e-mailer. I find option three gets me off most lists really fast!"

Now, Against the Grain would never support or condone the mischievous (though socially redeeming) spreading of viruses. Never, ever. Besides, Mike K. is a pro so he's not risking his own system, as you might be.

Readers were equally divided on whether a solution for spam would come from technology or law. "I live in Europe where it's illegal for any company to spam," wrote Steve Levett. "In fact, I have never received any spam from a European company. I believe the only way forward is to make spam illegal in the U.S. It has worked in Europe because companies won't risk a several thousand pound fine for each unsolicited e-mail sent."

"Although increased regulation by organizations such as the Direct Marketing Association and the FTC is a step in the right direction, regulation and legislation can only go so far in combating unwanted e-mail," says Craig Kaufman, a spokesman for a company called, Brightmail that sells e-mail filtering products.

"The Internet is free of geographic or political boundaries, rendering most national, regional and organizational efforts to stop spam largely ineffective. — Case in point: the online gambling industry."

"Brightmail," says Kaufman, "is the authority on spam, providing content filtering, anti-spam and anti-virus protection services to 11 of the top 15 ISPs."

A few "real" people wrote in praising Brightmail too. Others wrote saying that their ISPs, some using Brightmail, do a good job of spam-stopping. "I typically receive three spam e-mails a day," wrote Don Stubbs from Minnesota. "Two months ago I was receiving between 50 and 100 spam messages a day. It's not a perfect system, but I wasn't expecting perfection. I just wanted a little bit of help and technology came through. I can once again give out my e-mail address freely."

So thanks for all the e-mails. Keep them coming. — We promise not to give your addresses to the dark side.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is the Washington, D.C. Editorial Director of CBSNews.com.

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Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer
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