In my pre-blogging days, I was a bit of an anti-spam activist.

Well, that’s not really accurate. I was an anti-spam wannabe.

I followed the fight, cheered on those who actually did stuff, and grumbled and bitched a lot to myself. But I did adopt the attitude towards spam that I hold today — it’s appalling.

One of my biggest bitches at Congress has to have been their almost-criminally-misnamed “CAN SPAM Act.” This legalized the “opt-out” model of spamming — the idea that you can send someone as much spam as you like until they ask you nicely to stop it.

My favorite analogy to the “opt-out” model was this: “Congratulations! You’ve just won a free membersship in the punch-in-the-nose club! As a member, you are entitled to have one of our goons come by once a day and punch you in the nose. Should you wish to unsubscribe on this service, e-mail us and we will remove you from our lists. (Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for your request to be honored.”

To my small-l libertarian way of thinking, “opt-out” is morally reprehensible. The most fundamental right of any human being ought to be to be left alone. In my ideal world, one would never be put on any mailing list that one had not requested to be on.

I’m willing to bend a little, though. I can live with the “one free bite of the apple” model — “Hi there! We think you’d like to be a part of our mailing list. If you’d like to keep receiving our e-mails, just respond and we’ll put you on the list. If we don’t hear from you, then you won’t ever hear from us again.”

But the opt-out model… that’s just not sustainable. The last number I saw said that over 95% of all e-mails are spam. This morning, I downloaded 48 e-mails that arrived at my Wizbang account in the last eight hours — and 47 were spam. It’s rapidly approaching the point where spam will make e-mail utterly useless.

But it’s not the scam artists and con men that are the worst. It’s what the anti-spam crowd used to call “mainsleaze” spammers — big companies that really ought to know better, that ought to behave themselves. When they engage in spamming, then they lower the bar across the board and make it easier for everyone else to participate.

A lot of people compare spam to regular junk mail. That comparison fails on two points.

First, junk mail is self-regulating. The more you send, the more you pay. With spam, it costs pretty much the same to send one as it is to send 100 million.

Secondly, the real costs are shifted on the recipient and the carriers. While it costs the sender the same to send 100 million as to send one, it costs the companies that carry the e-mail more in bandwidth costs. And it costs me, too — I pay for my internet connection and my computer, and when spammers use my bandwidth and my computer for their advertising, they are doing so without my consent.

Right now, among all the Nigerian scams and penis enlargement and herbal remedies and sex solicitations and pirated software, I’m getting almost daily e-mails from two organizations that have apparently either hired spammers or set up an affiliate program that is open to spammers. Two companies that really ought to know better:

Kaplan University and Gevalia Coffee.

Hell, I don’t even DRINK coffee, but it seems every day Gevalia wants me to buy a 12 cup stainless steel coffeemaker carafe. The only use I’d have for such a device would be to beat to death the asshole who put my e-mail address on their list.

To be strictly fair, I don’t get the e-mails from Kaplan and Gevalia. Instead, they come from, where “XXX” is a number that changes (the last batch was 013). And a quick and dirty check says that this is a Chinese company.

But while they aren’t doing the spamming, it’s indisputable that they are the beneficiaries of it. If they weren’t rewarding the spammers in some way, then the spammers wouldn’t be spamming.

So, Kaplan and Gevalia. Why are you paying these spammers? And do you really think that the benefits you get from this spamming outweighs the sheer number of people you piss off?

Speaking strictly for myself, I would never give either Kaplan or Gevalia a single penny of my money, and I’d recommend anyone considering doing the same to look at their marketing methods — both their own and those they choose with whom they have chosen to affiliate.

We’ve tried so many other ways to fight spam, and the result has always been the same: more and more spam. I think the only way left to cut it back (I don’t even dare dream about it ending) is to get some of the money out of it. And that means exposing those who subsidize it and benefit from it.

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