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Spam Filtering—Killing The Patient To Cure The Disease?

Spam Filtering—Killing The Patient To Cure The Disease?

OK, everyone hates junk e-mail and wants to do something about it. Since we’re in the newsletter publishing business, we deal with this on a daily basis and are noticing a disturbing trend.

Basically, anti-spam efforts are choking the life out of e-mail.

Here’s what’s happening. Spam is a continual nuisance and ISP s are pressures to help keep it out of your inbox. In addition, a lot of companies think that “solving” the s pa m problem is the financial opportunity of a lifetime. Combine these two facts, and you have everyone trying to install mediocre s pa m filters as fast as they can be developed.

The problem is that there’s no real good way to keep the junk out and the good stuff in. One person’s s pa m is another’s digital gem. And the filters are not even close to getting it right.

Look at it this way—imagine if the post office had a filter set to only deliver the “good” stuff and destroy any junk mail. Should they throw out everything but bills and hand written letters? What about magazines? Coupons? Requested information from a certain company? What if they mistake your tax return for a piece of junk mail?

That’s a ludicrous idea, isn’t it? There’s no way anyone could sort your mail for you—they simply would not know what you wanted to keep and what you wanted to pitch. It just wouldn’t work—and the same is true with all these s pa m filters.

It seems that ISPs are so obsessed about nothing unwanted landing in our inboxes that they don’t care if any of the stuff we want gets there either. Unfortunately, a recent poll discovered that 88% of end users (that’s us) don’t care if legitimate e-mail gets blocked—as long as they don’t get as much s pa m! I don’t know about you, but I’m in that 12% that wants to get all of my e-mail.

To those who agree with the 88% who don’t care if they lose legitimate e-mail, think about this. What if you placed an order with a company that was getting blocked by your ISP? What if you had a problem with your order and sent them an e-mail to get it straightened out? They get your e-mail and—being a good company—reply immediately. However, since they are blocked by your ISP (and probably don’t know it) their reply to you never gets to your inbox.

So, now you get all upset because an internet company you ordered something from never replied to your complaint. Truth is they did, but your ISP prevented you from receiving the reply. See the problem?

It’s out of control and I see three possible outcomes:

1. They come up with a s pa m filter that works. (Not likely, remember the post office analogy?)

2. E-mail filtering gets completely out of control and e-mail is no longer a reliable means of communication. (The road we’re currently on). This possible future prompted us to create the Newsletter Reader [1] .

3. End users (that’s us) complain to our ISPs that we are not getting our e-mail correctly. In my opinion, we should NEVER EVER have even a single piece of e-mail filtered that we wanted in our inbox—period. That’s the standard we should set (and the way I think it will be).

What good is e-mail going to be if you can no longer rely on it?

So, before you jump onto a spam filtering system—or complain to your ISP—be sure to keep this little sermon in mind. You may get more e s pa m without the filter, but at least you’ll also get all your regular e-mail.

~ Steve