FROM THE TUSTIN NEWS, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2003


THE DOC IS IN...

Spam is becoming annoyance

The other morning there were 110 email messages in my Internet inbox; and that was just my morning download. Over 100 of them were unsolicited, or "spam." Even for me that was some kind of record.

In the past I have written a lot about spam. But it is becoming more and more of an annoyance to individuals, not to mention a staggering cost to businesses.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center (www.pewinternet.org) titled "Spam" had some very interesting conclusions. It is worth downloading and reading. Their focus was that spam was "... undermining the integrity of the Internet and degrading life online." This shows the seriousness of the problem.

Unfortunately, irrespective of Congress and California law, I believe there is little that can be done to eliminate spam from the source; the marketing emailers that collect addresses and send unsolicited messages.

California recently passed SB186, "Restrictions on Unsolicited Commercial E-mail Advertisers." It will take effect on January 1, 2004 and will try to limit email sent from and to Californians and makes it unlawful to collect email addresses for this use. Congress is trying to pass similar legislation.

While most of us agree with the intention of these laws, I think they will be hard to implement. Since email can originate from anywhere, how do you stop a marketer in the Cayman Islands from sending unsolicited email to a California user?

It is difficult to eliminate spam from our computers, as hard as we may try. In fact, SB186 makes a finding of fact that "spam filters have not proven effective." We can use multiple email addresses and try not to post our addresses on the web or while using newsgroups. But there are too many times where we choose to give out our email addresses for convenience.

The Pew report says that most users simply delete spam without reading the message. Unfortunately this takes time. Many companies and Internet service providers have spam elimination software, but as the State says, these haven't proven effective.

In my personal quest to put some lid on my own spam, I downloaded software from www.inboxprotector.com ,(or search Google for Inbox Protector). So far it has been reasonably useful. It catches about 40 percent of the incoming spam and diverts it to the "deleted items" folder in my Outlook Express email program. There I can take a fast look at the headers to be sure it hasn't captured any email that I want. It apparently uses some form of heuristic algorithm but also has a number of filters that can be set to screen certain words (Viagra, mortgage, etc) as well as addresses to allow or block. It cost $19.95. Unfortunately there is no free trial period. I will mention other spam filters as they come along and prove useful.

If you would like to hear more about spam, customer service problems or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

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Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: www.arholub.com. This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at: doc@arholub.com.


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