Editorial: Holidays in Anti-Spam Land

Every time I vow not to write an editorial about anti-spam activists, they make an irresistible case for giving them one more verbal slap in the head.

This issue's reason: London-based The Spamhaus Project (Spamhaus.org) last month blacklisted at least one of Yahoo's servers because some less-than-ethical folks reportedly set up shop on Yahoo Store to sell spamming software.

OK, all together now, spam is wrong. This editorial is not in defense of spammers. They use other people's resources to deliver their mail. It's theft. So please, just once, anti-spammers, save the avalanche of e-mail explaining that now-obvious concept.

The problem with Spamhaus Project's action is that in the process of moving against the would-be spam software merchants, the blacklisting organization (or for those who want to use the term that anti-spam blacklisters use so they can feel better about what they do, blocklisting organization) blocked some customer service e-mail during the latter half of December and beginning of January.

Hmmm. December? Store? Any connections being drawn out there in anti-spam land? Apparently not.

And this is one more example of what crusaders run amok do. They hurt innocent people and then try to justify it.

“The sale of stealth spamware is illegal in eight U.S. states, as well as being against the AUPs [Acceptable Use Policy] of most ISPs. So we blocked the Yahoo Store mail servers until Yahoo management woke up (which didn't take long),” said Steve Linford, director of The Spamhaus Project.

Great, Steve. Glad you're on the case. Merry Christmas to you, too. Blocking even small, kitchen-table retailers during the holiday selling season is one more example of how myopic anti-spam activists can be. Anti-spammers have their agenda. And if they steamroll innocent merchants in the process, too bad.

It's hard to believe there was no other option. Couldn't they have called Yahoo, threatening to blacklist them? Not cool either, but better.

To be sure, system administrators have a serious burden. They are desperate for ways to block unsolicited porn and pyramid e-mails. And there are some seriously unethical folks drowning the system in unwanted garbage.

But none of this is an excuse to block legitimate communications between innocent merchants and their customers.

The folks who run these anti-spam blacklisting services employ a similar philosophy to that of military boot camp drill instructors. In boot camp, recruits are quickly taught that when one of their ranks screws up, everyone pays.

In the military, this philosophy creates necessary cohesion. On the Internet, it simply makes doing business harder when doing business is already hard enough.

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