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Shein on Spam: Stupidity

Here is an interesting article. Not interesting because it's so right, but quite the opposite: interesting because the main subject, Barry Shein, is such an incredibly poor example of someone "fighting spam the right way" that the article is tainted beyond the point of recovery by his, i dunno, "crap."

"Shein is president of The World, a small, 10,000-user Internet service provider in Boston." Supposedly "The World" was the first dial-up ISP ever, but while that is all well and good, it does not give Shein the "prognosticator" or "pontificator" standing he seems to so desperately feel he deserves. Shein acts the part of an extremist, alarmist with drivel like ""Spam is a thousand times more horrible than you can ever imagine." Pardon me? I run a Web server with a few hundred email accounts and about 25 domains. I can imagine pretty darn well how much of a threat spam really is. About 35% of all my mail is spam, actually. is that "a thousand times more horrible" than we can imagine? Get a life, buddy.

Here, however, is the worst part:

The World is my personal ISP; I contacted Shein recently about recent problems I've been having with people's e-mails bouncing when they tried to send to me. I surmised, correctly, that the e-mails were bouncing because of the spam blacklists that The World has in place.

These SPEWS or "block all domains in this IP range" lists do nothing to help the spam "problem." Absolutely nothing. Spammers move from host to host so quickly that they're rarely in the IP range you just blocked. What's worse, you cut off valid email users - such as the ones the author notes above - from s email. Oftentimes people have no way of contacting you to let you know that their domain has been added to some blacklist for whatever reason.

Some time ago Paul Berkowitz, AppleScripter extraordinaire, was having trouble getting email from me because my domain's IP fell into some range once used by a spammer. I have not sent a single piece of spam from any of my servers - nobody has - yet I was cut off from communicating with him because someone else - someone who was cut off immediately after they were found guilty of spamming - happened to use an IP near mine. Blacklists hurt only valid email users: spammers don't feel the sting of getting blacklisted nearly often enough to make it effective at all.

What's more, Shein doesn't seem to "get" it. He whines repeatedly about how much time and effort all this blacklisting takes:

"We're completely under attack! There are bullets flying past our ears, and you're complaining to me about a hangnail!" Shein said.

"They're taking down the entire Internet. This can't go on. People are in deep denial, but it's completely collapsing before your very eyes," Shein said.

Shein estimates that about 30 percent of staff expenses at his 20-person company is now spent either putting in spam filters, or talking to customers on the phone about spam, or about false positives -- legitimate e-mail that gets erroneously tagged as spam and blocked.

He said he is frequently up until 3 a.m. himself putting in spam blocks and spends about four hours every day on spam issues.

If he would simply remove all of the filters and allow his customers to implement their own filters (perhaps one of the many Bayesian filters available), then poof: he'd reclaim 30% of staff expenses, his sleepless nights, and perhaps the free time to realize just what an ass he's been making of himself. His utter lack of understanding is summed up nicely here:

As for my problem with missing e-mail? "The one thing I won't do is spend a remaining minute of our time talking about false positives. If we all go down in blazes, I don't care any more," Shein said.

False positives on the server are the worst way in the world to fight spam. People would rather have to delete 100 spams than miss one legitimate email. I do freelance work, and let me tell you: one missed email might cost me $10,000 (or more!). I can't stress enough how poorly I would consider an ISP that blocked spam without me knowing. Apple's .Mac service does this as far as anyone can tell, and I absolutely despise Apple for not providing a means to turn it off. I rarely use my address for anything for fear I'll miss a valid email now.

I can't stress how badly blocking email on the server is for business. It makes people WANT to get spam, simply because they don't want to miss the "false positives" Shein so arrogantly blows off.

What's more, Shein seems to be living in his own little world. One in which only he thinks spam is a problem, and one in which, apparently, he spends so much time dealing with spam in what I would consider an almost illegal fashion (blocking email without user consent - yes I realize you sign up for and agree to "terms of service") that he hasn't noticed that a lot of other people are pissed too:

"We're victims of crime, and nobody gives a damn. That's a nice feeling -- your business is being pounded into dust by criminals, and people say, `Live with it,'" Shein said. "The spammers are calling the shots, the spammers are in charge of my time, and they are in charge of the Internet."

Huh? Do you know how many articles I read per week detailing the horror that is spam? Do you know how many people are working on all kinds of solutions, both legal and binary? I've written about four articles out of twenty five on this site already about spam!

I give up. No, not really.

One Response to "Shein on Spam: Stupidity"

  1. Chuq has a little post that fairly vividly describes the place in which any responsible 'net user should regard spam blacklists: as unethical, amoral, and...