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A model of the frustration


By Scott Bradner


New York State now has a fine of $5,000 per call for telemarketers who call someone who had put their phone number on the New York state-maintained do-not-call list.  The fine was raised from $2,000 a few weeks ago.  The State does want to send a message to the would-be messengers. But in the grand scheme of things, telemarketers who call during dinner are a small problem compared to what individuals and corporations are and, will be, facing when dealing with the email equivalent.


The telemarketing industry maintains that they are providing a service of use to the public.  At least some of the public seems to disagree.  The Boston Globe reports that a quarter of New York households have put their phone numbers on the state do-not-call list, 40% have done the same in Missouri and 35% in Tennessee. There is a national do-not-call list that is maintained by the Direct Marketing Association - DMA ( The fact that they require people to use postal mail or pay a  $5 fee for the on-line registration shows clearly that they do not actually want people to take advantage of the list.


The DMA also maintains a do-not-send-spam list where registration is free but they seem to think that you will miss strangers sending you ads for things that we cannot mention in a polite magazine, so the registration is only good for two years.  It's also far from clear how many of the spam artists are members of the DMA.  I expect those folks in Nigeria that have upper case only terminals and want to send you millions of dollars if only you send them a few dollars to start the process are not DMA members.  Nor, I expect, are most of the other spamers. 


Spam email is getting to be a serious burden on many Internet users.  I'm up to over a hundred spam messages on an average weekday.  Dealing with them takes some time, even if I can automatically discard the majority of them using procmail, which comes as a part of the Mac OSX distribution.


Companies are spending more and more effort to try to reduce the amount of spam that gets into the corporate email servers in a vain effort to reduce the time wasted while employees read then delete the junk mail and to reduce the disk space needed to store it until the employee gets around to dealing with it.  The tools are getting better but they are not perfect and some of the 10's to 100's of thousands of spam messages a big corporation gets in a day will get through.


But the US government seems paralyzed by the prospect of actually doing something about the problem.  Having the FCC maintain a opt-out list, for which on-line subscription would be free, seems to be a minimum  first step.  Of course this should be tied to significant fines to the beneficiaries of the spam (not just the senders) for every message sent in violation of the list.  But donŐt hold your breath.


disclaimer:  Harvard has gotten used to things taking a long time, but this whine is my own.