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December 07, 2004

What's Your Take on "Make Love Not Spam?"

The "Make Love Not Spam" campaign was a short-lived effort by Lycos in the United Kingdom to use technology to fight spammers directly. At the root of the campaign was a screensaver provided by Lycos that would use unused PC cycles to bombard the Web sites of known spammers in an effort to bring the sites almost to their knees.

These kinds of retaliatory tactics have been tried before (and continue to be available under other auspices). I believe there are so many things wrong with this approach, it's hard to know where to begin. Here are some of the high points:

  • Genuine or near-Denial of Service attacks may be outright illegal in some jurisdictions around the world
  • By using your computer to initiate such attacks, you may be putting yourself in violation of your own ISP's Terms of Service
  • Fighting abuse with abuse only escalates the initial abuser's determination to overcome the retaliation
  • Eventually, no matter how carefully the sponsors try, innocent Web sites whose URLs were included in messages by spammers would be hit by the attack
  • Do you really want to contribute more garbage traffic to the Internet?
  • I refuse to sink to the same level as an abuser
  • No matter how big your boot, you'll miss cockroaches with your stomp, and they'll be back before you know it

Retaliatory attacks come out of frustration with a system that seems to favor spammers, particularly abusive spammers. That's an understandable response: An iframe for an iframe, and all that.

But I am a firm believer that the best way to really aggravate someone trying to get your attention is to completely ignore him. On a massive scale.

If the world's email users took a ZERO RESPONSE attitude toward unsolicited mail (using spam filters to keep as much out to begin with), that would frustrate the spammers to the nth degree. The part I like best about it is that there really is no retaliation that the spammers can take on everyone ignoring them. Sure, they could ramp up the volume for awhile, but it would just give us more to ignore.

No response = no income = no spammers.

This approach is both the easiest to implement (no new technology or legislation required) and the most difficult to implement (requiring a little bit of awareness spread across a huge potential audience, most of whom don't read Web sites like this one). Spam Wars addresses this challenge head-on.

Fortunately, the MLNS campaign has now been indefinitely suspended following lots of complaints and rumors. I'm sure other attempts like it will surface, but I suggest steering clear of them.

Posted on December 07, 2004 at 10:16 AM  |  Spam Fighting