ZD’s Berlind: Mailbox Providers Responsible for Spam Solution

In a recent article on the Spam problem and one mans ideas to fix it, ZD Net contributor David Berlind advocated an unimaginative approach to solving the problem.

We have to go back to square-one on e-mail and rebuild the entire system. Who is in a position to do this? Basically, all it would take would be for Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo to make it happen

It’s tempting to think that this could be true – especially if, due to the myth of Corporate efficiency, you see these corporations as Gods that can remedy any problem – if only they were to join forces. 

It’s the same fallacy that leads people to suggest that if Oracle, Novell, IBM, and other huge corporations with many times the manpower of tiny (by comparison) Microsoft merely set their differences aside they could create a Windows-killer desktop OS that everyone would want to use.  It hasn’t happened – and it won’t, largely because most of Microsoft’s competitors don’t really want to support the typical consumer.

I’m a little troubled by the proposal that a few major corporations colluding to force a standard on the masses will somehow fix the problem.  Just look at how well Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo have been able to get along when it came to IM interoperability.  Only recently did Microsoft and Yahoo start offering true IM interop.  Google has hitched itself to the Jabbr format and AOL has fought bitterly against interop with anyone it doesn’t own and completely control.

This kind of reminds me of one of the core fallacies with socialism. It’s the idea that if you take the myth of corporate efficiency, and consolidate all of those corporations into one government-controlled mega-corporation then all of your problems will be solved.  This approach has time and again brought massive failure on massive scales.

Berlind and others would do well to consider this from a property rights standpoint. 

According to the cited Cisco IronPort press release…

More than 80 percent of spam comes from infected “zombie” computers, typically in consumer broadband networks.

Spam is a form of Internet pollution.  If we used a water supply analogy, it’d be raw sewage from an upstream neighbor’s septic system.

How would we deal with this?  First of all, I would demand from my own water company that they deliver clean water to me.  And they would in turn, have agreements with other water networks in the area.  If water from another supplier was found to contain sewage, my supplier would not allow their water to contaminate their clean system.  If that supplier realizes that they have been shut off (preferably after a warning or two) then there will be great incentive for them to identify the source of pollution and disconnect it until the problem is resolved.

So let’s do the same thing with Spam.  It’s not hard to spot a PC gushing out bulk-email 24/7 so ISP’s should look for abnormally high amounts of outbound email traffic.  This should result in an automated test filter to see if it seems to be Spam.  If this is the case, then the users traffic would be restricted and the customer would only be able to navigate to a quarantine page with links to tools to remove the infection as well as real-time contact information for the ISP.

The Spam problem has only existed as long as it has because ISP’s are unwilling to police their own network traffic – unless there is a complaint.  The cost of Spam should be felt by the operators of Zombie computers and by the ISP’s that host them.  Failure to behave should result in quarantine until the pollution of the greater network is halted.

This is a property-rights approach to Spam that would work because it places the responsibility of dealing with Spam where it belongs – on those who generate it – and not on the end users.

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