What you can do to fight spam.

I’m working on a simple list of things that ordinary people can do to help themselves and the rest of us in the fight against spam.  Here’s a start.  It’s meant to help answer the question: “What can I do about spam?”  I know it won’t solve the problem, but it strikes me that users taking some responsibility can only help — probably moreso than any federal or state law will help solve the problem, frankly.  Please add suggestions in the comments field below.  Thanks to the Berkman geeks for edits that have already been worked into this list.

* Install spam filters or blockers on your personal computer.  Or just use the spam fighting capabilities of your existing mail program — Eudora, Outlook, and Mozilla all have spam blocking.  [The great lawyer Wendy Seltzer notes that one ought to be familiar with the trade-offs one is accepting once one installs filters.  In particular, one ought to know what one might be missing in the event of the inevitable “false positives” that will occur.]

* Use anti-virus software on your personal computer.

* Subscribe to your ISP’s spam-fighting services.

* Consider moving to “challenge-and-response” for e-mail addresses you particularly want to protect.  [Hal Roberts says: “Bleh.”  He concedes it might be helpful as a short-term partial fix, if noxious.]

* Never give out your preferred e-mail address online. Instead, set up and use a free e-mail account (like Yahoo! or hotmail) to give out.

* Never post your e-mail address to a public place online.

* Ask your systems administrator at work to install good spam filters or blockers on the work network.

* Report particularly bad spam to your state attorney general’s office.

* Beware e-mails that ask you for your credit card or social security numbers.  Never respond to an email that asks for a password or to install a security update.  These are likely forgeries since a system administrator will never ask for such a thing over e-mail.

* Think twice before “unsubscribing” to e-mails from merchants you don’t know.  These links mostly just alert the spammer that there is a live user at your address.

* More of a virus thing: Don’t open emails from people you don’t know. And never open an attachment in any email unless you know the sender and are specifically expecting an attachment from that person (viruses generally spread by sending trojan horse programs to victims from people that they know).

I’m trying to keep it straightforward and non-technical to include only things that are 1) uncontroversial and 2) more or less unharmful to things we like about the Internet.

There might be a second-order list of things for those more technically inclined, such as:

* Consider using RSS feeds rather than e-mail based lists.

* [More.]

[Updated after original posting thanks to input of others. And a news story on lawsuits by MSFT and NY State against big spammers, from Salon’s Erin Mclam, via Catherine Bracy.]

2 thoughts on “What you can do to fight spam.

  1. Make sure you know — and are comfortable with — the criteria and tradeoffs of your spam blockers or filters. (You may or may not get this from your ISPs antispam services.) Will you receive all the mail you want to get? How many false positives (non-spam classified as spam) can you expect? Will you ever find out whether and why a message has been blocked?

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