After my recent two-part article on spam laws (see "Email Spam: The Bandwagon Plays On" beginning in TidBITS-528), many readers wrote privately and to TidBITS Talk with requests for practical information. The survey of how United States law is addressing the problem was all very interesting, they wrote, but what can ordinary Internet users actually do about spam without having to sue someone?
I often find myself telling clients that litigation is usually one of the worst ways to resolve a dispute. It is often slow and tedious, costly both in terms of money and time, follows arcane rules (some of which date back to "I Claudius!") and is inherently risky in the end. If there is any other alternative, using it is often the best course of action.
On the individual spam-fighting level, you can create filters in Eudora, Outlook Express, and other email clients that will catch the more obvious spam. If you're not inclined to do that, services such as Brightmail can do it for you. If you want to take a more active role, you can sign petitions, write your elected representatives, and, of course, boycott companies with inconsistent or nonexistent spam policies.
I have compiled a short list of Web sites that offer those things and more. Many of these were recommended by those who wrote in (thank you!), while others are sites I've found and use myself. There are many more sites than those I mention below. If you run across others that you think are particularly noteworthy, please send a note to TidBITS Talk introducing the resource.
I should add that I am not specifically endorsing any of these sites, and the fact that I may not include a particular site does not mean I think it's no good; I probably just don't know about it. For the benefit of TidBITS readers, I will keep this list posted on the Web and will occasionally update it based on what I find and what I see mentioned on TidBITS Talk, so please do write in with new sites and with any good or bad experiences you may have with the posted sites.
Server Filtering Services -- These anti-spam tools provide an email account with server-based filtering so you don't have to create all the filters yourself in your email program. Even better, they filter out spam before it ever reaches you so you don't waste time or disk space downloading the junk.
Brightmail acts as a mail proxy server for your email and filters suspected spam for you. To use Brightmail, you have to set up a free account and modify your email client program settings to get mail through the Brightmail server. Brightmail does not simply trash suspected spam, but saves it at its site where you can view the messages and decide which to keep and which to delete. Their FAQs list more information, including topics for individuals, corporations, and ISPs.
For a fee, SpamCop offers a service similar to Brightmail where SpamCop acts as a proxy server for your email account and filters out spam before it reaches you. They hold the filtered mail for up to a week so that the user can review it.
The Spam Bouncer requires a Unix shell account, procmail, and the savvy to use both of them. The Spam Bouncer is essentially a series of procmail filters that allow you to block or flag spam as it's received.
Tracking Down Spammers -- This next group of sites provide information on tracking down spammers so they can be reported to ISPs and, if necessary, to law enforcement. Keeping track of spammers is important for another reason: the more data users can provide to lawmakers, the greater the chance of realistic laws will be implemented and enforced. Also see Geoff Duncan's TidBITS article, "Responding to Spam," in TidBITS-442.
Get That Spammer provides information and tools for tracking down spammers. The Tools link provides an array of Web-based tools to help track down systems abused by spammers - although you have to understand a bit about how email and DNS operate to use the tools effectively. The Information link lists the latest legal developments and articles discussing policy and practical approaches to stopping spam. The site also provides instructions to ISPs about crafting better acceptable use policies, advice to users on how to file complaints (complete with a sample complaint letter), and much more information, tips, and tools for dealing with spammers.
The free SpamCop service allows its registered users to send received spam to SpamCop, which will then generate complaint messages to the appropriate ISP administrators and others.
Spam Education -- These educational sites provide information about spam, additional suggestions on how to deal with it, and often links to other anti-spam sites. They also list contact information for reporting spammers, and for encouraging lawmakers to enact appropriate legislation.
F.R.E.E. is the Forum for Responsible and Ethical Email. F.R.E.E. provides a spam primer that educates users about why spam is such a bad thing, and also provides information on reading email headers, building filters to block spam, crafting complaints, and much more.
Spam.abuse.net is an informational site that not only describes the damage done by spammers, but also provides a list of non-spamming, spam.abuse.net-endorsed marketing companies and sites.
The Mail Abuse Prevention System's Anti-DMA info page provides information about the Direct Marketing Association's efforts to protect spam and spammers.
Spam Law in the United States -- The following sites offer information specific to legal efforts to curb unsolicited email in the U.S.
CAUCE, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, is a well-known anti-spam group providing information on current anti-spam efforts, legislative updates and discussion, and other advice on how to combat spam. CAUCE tracks spam issues in the U.S. and abroad, and they even have a cool t-shirt.
The John Marshall Law School Cyberspace Law site provides information and links to statutes, cases, and other legal materials about spam. The site is updated and maintained by Professor David Sorkin.
The Spam Laws site, also maintained by David Sorkin, is a bit more up to date than the John Marshall site but also provides information on U.S. federal and state laws addressing spam.
SueSpammers.org is an excellent resource to track developments in spam law across the U.S.
The Mad About Spam Web site provides a petition users can sign to send a message to their U.S congressional representatives about neutralizing the Direct Marketing Association's efforts to protect spam and spammers.
International Spam Law -- Finally, although the bulk of Internet usage is still centered in the United States, spam is an international issue and could become increasingly so if U.S. legislation becomes more restrictive. The following sites deal with anti-spam legislation in various global locales.
David Sorkin's Spam Laws site also includes a section on European Union directives, policies, and directions on regulating the Internet and spam as Internet usage increases in Europe. Another section covers spam and Internet regulation elsewhere in the world.
CAUCE has a number of affiliates around the world, including EuroCAUCE, CAUBE.AU (Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk Email, Australia), and CAUCE India. If you're a resident of one of those areas, check out the appropriate CAUCE affiliate site for links to local legislative issues.
Electronic Commerce and the European Union is a site that provides information about European Union policies regarding the increasing amount of commerce being done on the Internet.