In the analog world, legitimate arguments can be had about the merits of the fatty, salty culinary offense, trade-named SPAM. Whatever you think of this mostly-fat, food substitute, it has spawned more jokes and comedy skits than all other other canned meats combined. In the digital world. I haven’t met anyone who really likes spam however.
I don’t like SPAM (queue plastic-viking-hatted actors singing “wonderful SPAM”). As far as I know, I have successfully avoided ingesting the congealed pork substance for around three decades despite having encountered it hundreds of times. My disdain aside, Hormel has sold over 8 billion tins of the 80 plus-year-old concoction, so someone eats it. That’s okay, for them, but SPAM is not for everyone; neither is spam.
Unless you don’t have an email address or you have only had one for a very short time you have probably encountered plenty of spam. I encounter it daily. Like the canned meat, someone must be consuming this crap, otherwise, why would it’s purveyors persist? Unsolicited commercial email or UCE -better known as spam, – continues to be foisted on us because. like the can-shaped pork parts, it continues to be consumed. Both are still part of the vernacular of the world because there is money to be made.
The politics of spamming
Email servers employ highly efficient applications which attempt to sniff out spam. Hardware devices and online services exist which are dedicated to stopping UCE messages. Highly paid computer engineers spend countless hours each year tweaking these machinations and inventing new ways to keep you from getting spam. There are web pages numbering well into the thousands with well-meaning tips on how to avoid spam emails; some of these might even have some effect. Among the most popular of these tips is that you need to purchase one of the numerous spam filter software applications. You might even have done so.
And yet, you probably have spam messages in your inbox right now.
The best thing you can do with those messages is to grumble if you must and then delete them and move on. There is no point in spending time unsubscribing or even blocking the sender. If there is an unsubscribe link, clicking on the link only verifies that the message has been delivered to a valid address. You may actually increase the amount of spam you get later on by doing so. As for blocking, there is no need, chances are you will never receive spam from the same email address again. Spammers use an address once and create a new one. There is also no sense dwelling on why you get so much spam. Don’t take it personally, it is just a numbers game. What kind of numbers? More than 50 billion spam email messages are sent every day worldwide. Credible estimates say that around 40 percent of all email traffic on the entire internet is spam. The reason is simple, the more messages that are delivered to inboxes the better chances one will ensnare a victim
Whatever resources are put to fighting spam the purveyors of these messages work just as hard to stay one step ahead. They do this because somewhere, right now, someone is clicking on a link or opening a file or taking some other action in a spam message. No matter what page full of tips you follow, no matter what anti-spam measures you take, given the right combination of bad luck on your part and good work on the part of the spammer, the victim could be you.
Equality in action
Spam filters can certainly help cut down the spam volume, but they cause their own set of problems. The first problem, believe it or not, comes from the absolute equal treatment all your messages will receive. I’ll explain.
These filters look through each message for characteristics that indicate the message might be UCE. A probability is assigned by the software and then some action is taken based on settings which may have been defined by a human. Suppose for example that the software thinks it is forty percent likely that a message is spam, and the human who set up the software has decided that forty percent is high enough that the message should be moved to the junk mail. Perhaps a sixty percent match means the message will be deleted outright.
There is little doubt that every message in your inbox right now has passed through one or more filters. If your filter were set as in the example above it is very likely you would have messages going to your junk folder or being deleted that were not in fact spam. You would likely also still have UCE message delivered to your inbox as well. Spam filters are an informed guess made by a piece of software which can only operate on a given set of parameters. As I said each message gets absolutely equal treatment, so the same set of rules are applied to the rum cake recipe you asked your aunt Gertude to send you as to the advertisement for canned meat. If your aunt Gertrude’s secret recipe looks like spam it will be treated as spam.
The trick to getting UCE messages delivered to the inbox is to make them look like they are not spam. The folks who sent the ad for actual SPAM know ways to do this but your aunt Gertrude probably does not. Of course, you might bypass this problem by adding goodly Aunt Gertrude’s address to your safe list, assuming you know it and assuming you remember to add it to your safe list when you get home from Thanksgiving. Of course, you could also block any email from coming in that does not match an entry on that safe list. Honestly though, that level of paranoia about spam takes much of the adventure out of it. What if that favorite Aunt tells her neighbor to forward you an even more succulent rum cake recipe? What it there really is a Prince in Zimbabwe wanting to give you his money for safekeeping?
The human filter
I believe the larger problem that spam filters may cause is that they can give a false sense of security. I would never recommend that you run around with all spam filters down (although I do on one of my accounts). Instead set them at a reasonable level and then pay attention.
If you believe your spam filter is acting as it should, are you more likely to trust messages that get delivered to your inbox? Be honest.
In fact, you should be more cautious because you may be dealing with someone who actually knows what they are doing.
In part two of this series, I will discuss ways that spammers and hackers manipulate us so that you might bettr be able to recognize scam emails.
By day Shannon is a mild mannered IT technician and business owner, who’s been shepherding bytes for three decades. When Shannon isn’t at someone’s computer he’s probably taking pictures, working on his novel, writing his blogs, walking in the woods with his dog Cooper, cooking or tinkering with something. He teaches social media, blogging and technology classes at the local college. Oh and he’s the worlds oldest beginning drummer.