It's not exactly poisoning village wells, but those who generate the tons of bogus and unwanted e-mail messages known as "spam" ought to suffer some appropriate punishment in the hereafter - perhaps having a demon devoted to stuffing flaming pine cones up their personal inbox.
In the meantime, those of us who originally switched to e-mail to avoid the junk that came with snail-mail can at least do a few things to get the electronic equivalent of a flea infestation down to manageable proportions.
There's a variety of spam-blocking software available, but there are also things that can be done before you spend any money. Viral Tripathi, a guru in the Associated Press Management Information Systems department recently distributed an internal memo on actions you can take to reduce spam. His suggestions are worth sharing.
First, Tripathi said, never respond to unsolicited e-mail. To the perps, that's exactly what they were looking for, a pair of eyeballs.
Second, don't believe those instructions that say you'll get off the list if you reply using the word "remove." Tripathi says that just identifies you as a live one and you'll get on ever more lists. Well it might be unsettling that marketers would deliberately try to deceive you, it's true nonetheless - and oh, by the way, the check is in the mail.
In a similar vein, Tripathi cautions against signing up on Web sites that promise to get you off spam lists. They might be sites that collect addresses and sell the same.
As much as you can, avoid any public display of your e-mail address. Spammers use programs called "bots" that surf the Web looking for addresses.
And finally, Tripathi says, if you are a member of any group or service that maintains a directory, see if you can opt out. Kind of like an unpublished phone number.
Following these suggestions won't eliminate all spam, but it will reduce the flow.
And why is that good and what's so wrong about spam anyway?
Spam is more than just the junk mail that the post office delivers.
With snail-mail, the junk mailer pays the postage for the delivery. On e-mail, you pay for the connection and often, the storage for stuff you didn't want in the first place. That's theft.
From time to time, various politicians propose legal remedies and the chance of any of those becoming law, much less being widely enforced, is anyone's guess.
As for the spam-blocking software, most of it works within limitations, one of which is that like computer virus-prevention software, if it's not constantly updated, the perps will surely work ways around it.
Questions and comments are welcome. Send them to Larry Blasko, The Associated Press, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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