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Gypsy & Willy - The Original Libertarian Bloggers

How Can You Laugh at a Time Like This?

Willy Chaplin

No. 6

Punishing the victims!

March 6, 1998

I had prepared an autobiographical column for today, but events led me to bump it into next week so I can bring the following alarming information to your attention. Since Monday morning, a lot of email to and from my address has been blocked. In particular, the new Teen Movie Critic, Vivian Rose, a fourteen year old girl living in rural Arkansas, has been unable to get her latest reviews to me. Her father, Charles, has been tracking down the reason. It turns out that there exists a "Black Hole List" of ISPs that are either "allowing" spamming or are "indifferent" to it. Other ISPs "subscribe" to this list and VOLUNTARILY block all email to and from the sites on the list. It turns out that our ISP, Minnesota OnLine, at state.net is on the list. Some, perhaps most, email still gets through and I have detected no decrease in the daily amount of spam I am receiving. Indeed, a couple of test emails from Arkansas have gotten through somehow, suggesting that the blocking mechanism is rather pourous. But, as time went on (since Monday), more and more of my email has been bouncing and more and more people (who knows how many?) were unable to get through to me.

You can sort of find out...although the site is written in techno-babble (or con-man-babble,...take your pick)...at

http://maps.vix.com/ (MAPS)

what is going on. This site, mostly contains excuses for what they are doing. At first glance, these rationalizations seem plausible enough...until you think about them for a few minutes (more on this later). They ARE selling SOMETHING, though it is hard to see just what, on first reading. What IS clear, is that the VICTIMS of spamming are being hit upside the head, since end users (like us) are the first to notice the blockage. And, our ISP is no exception. A long way from either "permitting" spamming or being "indifferent" to it, state.net has been a victim of so-called "relay spamming," where the spammer sends huge volumes of spam via third party ISPs which become the de-facto points of origin. They already suffer the consequences of having their bandwidth stolen as well as being the angry recipients of TONS of email protesting both the email holdups and the spam itself. My contact in support at state.net says that his email volume leaps from the normal 200-300 per day to 6,000-10,000 pieces per day after a "mail bomb" (relay spam) hits their site. It is possible to "be removed" from the Black Hole List, but what about those mail relay stations that have already "subscribed." State.net, for example is engaged, as I speak, first of all, finding a workaround to allow their customers to get unblocked and is bringing in a consultant this weekend to "permanently" fix the problem. Presumedly all this takes mucho time, effort and, of course, expense. And, it may NOT work...

So it is hard for me to decide whether this anti-spam effort is an honest attempt in using the "self correcting" property of the Internet (which, incidentally, I dealt with in another context in yesterday's column Planetary nervous system) to cure a serious problem or just another scam to sell software, which blames the victims for the crime and victimizes them again (at a profit). I'm sure you are aware of the rumors that the purveyors of anti-virus software are themselves developing and releasing new viruses all the time...a rumor which is, of course, hotly denied by the anti-virus software vendors. But, using the "follow the money" theory of crime prevention, it is very difficult not to be suspicious. The methodology of the antispammers is eerily similar to the methods of the spammers themselves. I must admit that this spooks me. Compare, for example, the deathless prose of why spam is bad for you (on the MAPS site) to the scare ads of the voluminous health product spammers. Or, contrast the many get-rich-quick spams to the save-the-internet-quick scheme of the originators of the Black Hole List.

Nor am I a fan of "blocking software" in general. Vivian Rose's father, for example, reports that at a local recreation center in Arkansas, which uses a "Cyber Cop" blocking software, he is unable to bring up his daughter's Teen Movie Critic site. The reason? Her name is Vivian Rose. The word "rose" is blocked because it is used on "many" porn sites. Another blocked word (which keeps any site using the word from being downloaded) is "angel," because young honeys on porn sites are often called "angels," a word probably chosen by the pornographers themselves to circumvent earlier porn blocking efforts. Ridiculous? I'm afraid THAT word is an incredible understatement! As Vivian's father confided to me on the phone today, "The genie is out of the bottle and nobody, nohow, is going to put it back. Trying to protect children from words and thoughts that most have been exposed to by the time they are five either at home or in school is an incredible waste of time." This from the dedicated and protective father of a teen age girl...who also happens to be an ex-cop.

In any case, it is clear that MAPS (Mail Abuse Protection System) has begun a War Against Spam. Whether or not their methods are completely sane or even above board is quite another question. It is predictable that dedicated spammers will find many ways to defeat this particular system...for those of us who know how the Internet works, it is not difficult to think of a few...and escalate the war to higher and higher levels. At least the governement and legislators are not involved in this effort (yet!). Who will win from this battle? FOLLOW THE MONEY!!! Who will lose? Each and every one of us. ISPs who end up on the list are doubly cursed. Forced by a form of extortion to purchase blocking software, which I suspect will be of limited value, they must also dedicate precious support resources to dealing with the self inflicted wounds of these self righteous CEBBTOs (people who wish to Change Everybody's Behavior But Their Own).

Ask yourself these questions:

What I am trying to do in this admittedly hurriedly assembled column, is put out a call to all my readers and their associates to help me in investigating these guys and hopefully putting a stop to this incredibly ignorant meddling in the free transmission of email. I was unable to find an actual copy of the Black Hole List on their site (I suspect it is for sale), although they have a search engine that allows you to check if your particular IP address is currently on the list. If anybody out there has the list, email it to me and I WILL POST IT IN ITS ENTIRETY! If you have better luck than I in discovering what exactly they are selling, email the prices and design details to me and I WILL POST THEM IN THEIR ENTIRETY!

If you are an email relay point and you have bought into this scam, I suggest that you IMMEDIATELY CEASE AND DESIST WHAT YOU ARE DOING! You have bought into a War Against Spam that you can not win. You can only cause immense harm to individual users of the Internet (email remains the single biggest consumer of bandwidth on the Net and is vitally necessary to free commerce) and to fellow emailers. Let's, together, find ways to deal with the problems of spam that do not punish the victims of it!

If you think you have good ideas for dealing with spam, by all means pass them on to me and to other friends of freedom and let us broadcast them for you. But, be careful. The issue is damnably difficult and there are many "gotchas" that may not occur to you at first glance. Remember, US law will probably not work, since the Internet is global. But, I am certain that using the combined might of the entire Internet community, we can handle it without such intrusive and stupid plans as the Great Black Hole List Scam.

See you tomorrow...

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Editor's note: We have already received a long email protesting this protest. It is reproduced, with my answer here.
Editor's note: And here's one directly from MAPS. It is reproduced, with my answer here.
To contact Willy and comment on what he has written...or anything else...write to willy@dreamagic.com (Willy Chaplin).

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