Spambusters

How to rid your inbox of penis enlargement offers

| January / February 2003

Want to learn about debt consolidation? Herbal supplements? Or just about any variety of sex toy under the sun? Then feel free to check my e-mail inbox. It?s all there, dozens of smarmy offers each day, deposited under the supposedly generous pretext of helping me manage my life.

But all this spam really accomplishes is to frustrate me, as well as millions of others. The kind of help we?d truly appreciate is in getting rid of this deluge of unsolicited commercial junk, which Consumer Action (www.consumer-action.org) reports now accounts for an estimated one-third of all e-mail. Together with the Telecommunications Research and Action Center and the National Consumers League, they have created a Web site, www.banthespam.com, where beleaguered e-mail users can register their horror stories and read about a recent proposal to prod the Federal Trade Commission into a new role as spambuster.

Joining forces against our hidden assailants may be our last best hope and, though it sounds deceptively simple, a well-oiled delete button may well be key. Rather than relying on preprogrammed rules or teams of professional screeners, the promising SpamNet software (currently available for free at www.cloudmark.com, though only compatible with Microsoft Outlook at this time) gathers information each time a user rejects an e-mail. Enough rejects effectively bans the e-mail from being distributed to other users. And that starts to feel like real help in managing my life.

Jacqueline White is an Utne contributing editor.