Thank the spammers.

Oddly enough, I remember a time when closing a relay was considered extremely rude. In the early days of the Internet, everyone who connected to it took some responsibility in helping to ensure that all the Internet's traffic was routed to its destination. Some places had better connections than others and some connections were unavailable at times for various reasons. So part of connecting your machine to the network was sharing the load and donating little bits of bandwidth here and there so the Internet ran smoothly for everyone. Relays were important because sometimes a user's home server was unavailable.

Then came the spammers. Because they abused the relays, like they abuse everything else, the relays had to be turned off. They found that they could abuse the relays and cost others hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but it prevent them from losing the $10 dialup account or free netzero account. It's like a thief who steals a $1000 wedding ring with priceless sentimental value just to sell it for a $20 cocaine fix. Old software which ran perfectly well had to be replaced just to close the hole which was so important to leave open before. Yeah, thank the spammers for that.

But that's not the only thing the spammers have ruined. Free ISPs were growing. The service wasn't perfect, it came with ads which were intentionally in the way, but that paid for the service, so it was OK. Over all, Netzero's service was actually pretty good even if it did have that open window in the way. But spammers learned that they could abuse those too, and their mindset is "abuse it quick before it goes away" knowing that the abuse is what will make it go away. But each spammer wants to be the one to milk it dry before the next spammer does, and all them combined make it useless. Thanks, spammers, thanks a lot.

Try querying any database which has email addresses anywhere in it. They have to either make it pay only, or make you type in something associated with an image before you can retrieve data. Why? Because spammers found out there were valid email addresses and started hammering the servers with automated bots, grabbing the entire database, using up all the bandwidth 1000 time over, just to harvest a hand full of addresses from it to abuse them as well. So to defend themselves and keep their servers from crashing, they had to make it impossible to query automatically. Thank the spammers.

And lets not forget usenet. Munging addresses was once considered blatant abuse. Now very few give a valid address. If you want to discuss something offline or off topic with a poster, you either can't do it via email or you have to unmunge the address. Thank spammers for that too.

The spammers claim to be running legitimate businesses, but legitimate businesses who ask for email addresses when you download their product, get 99.9% garbage addresses now. Sign up for anything online and you have to use an email address which you don't expect to keep. The trust is rightfully gone. Again, that's something else for which you can thank spammers.

How about dialup pools? Many ISPs use them, you might be using bellsouth, earthlink, netzero, or even tekplex or any one of the others and dialing into the same pool of modems. One spammer might abuse that so much that others have to deny emails from the pool just to protect their systems. But the spammer got his unsolicited and unwanted garbage sent out while it lasted, so he's happy even if everyone else is now having problems in his wake. Thank the spammers for that one as well.

If you email from a server with a dialup connection, much of the world will not accept your email even if neither your server nor any other server in your block has ever been used for spamming. But it's impossible to know in advance that it wont be, so ISPs almost never allow mail servers on dialups, so no matter how legitimate, you can't operate a mail server without a permanent connection. Thanks, spammers.

AOL announced a few days ago that they finally hit the billion mark. In one day they dumped over a billion spams from their servers. And that doesn't include the spams which got through to the customers. They estimate that something like $5 per month of each user's fee goes to pay the costs of handling the bandwidth and other associated costs of handling all the spam. Gee thanks, spammers!

And what of freedom? It's becoming less and less acceptable to use anything online without constant monitoring by someone, be it an ISP, a government agency, or merely a librarian. If you want to use a computer online, you have to ID yourself. Your actions have to monitored to an increasing degree. Will the day come when government reads all your mail and decides your rights online? Perhaps. When that day comes, thank the spammers for it.

And you wonder why I fight them? I wonder why you don't. Not necessarily you specifically, but the millions of users of the Internet. If only 2% fought them hard, if only 10% of the ISPs blocked ALL traffic to and from spam friendly hosts (not just email, but web pages too, for example), the spammers would have no one willing to connect them. So why isn't that happening? Have people become such sheep that they just accept abuse and the concept that ruination is the natural path? Or are too many people just too lazy to become involved? I'm not sure. Whatever the cause, there will always be spammers and similar thieves looking for a quick buck and unscrupulous ISPs willing to cater to them while they abuse if they can get away with it. But when email is no longer usable, when people have to go back to long distance telephone bills or carrier pigeon, thank the spammers.

Then again, thank those who were willing to do business with the spammers, buy their products, sell them connectivity, and host their pages. Also, thank those who looked the other way and continued doing business with the ISPs who harbored the spammers. Is that you? If so, thanks. Thanks a lot. I hope whatever you got from it was worth it.

William R. James
8 March 2003