Communism Is the Best Cure For Spam?

by Matthew Russell

There's nothing more powerful on this planet than simple economic theory: the logical outworkings of supply and demand. You have a need? Someone will always fill it -- well, for the right price. There's money to be made? Someone will make it -- even if it fills your inbox with all sorts of great deals on Valentine's Day "meds." Well, that's unless big brother steps in. Such is the case with China. Sort of.


2006-02-24 09:24:53
Well, economic life didn't die in communist countries. It just went on very inefficiently. And a huge black market sprang up, too.

But I don't think China is particularly interested in reviving a failed economic model. There are certainly people stupid enough in the world, but the Chinese are not among them. They had the reverse up to the eyes and aren't about to go back. They remain an autocratic society, but they are increasingly adopting liberal economics - i.e., the market.

However, this isn't fundamentally a question of economic systems. All states regulate economic life in various ways - and must needs do so.

I think the real question here is, How effective is any propsed scheme likely to be in practice?

2006-02-24 10:05:43
I kind of like the "everyone deals with their own spam in their own way" system -- which could include asking for help, whether it be a private company or the government through a mechanism like lobbying.
2006-02-24 11:35:14
I think you've confused communism with regulation.
2006-02-24 13:48:58
I do not understand what this is all about. Al countries have rules if you need your civil liberties protected you need strong rules for that. I think for example spam is against eu privacy regulation because your e-mail address is a personal data you have to give a company authorization to use and store it.
2006-02-24 14:37:20
@adamsj: I chose the term "communism" vice "regulation" because I'm hoping (wishfully thinking, crossing my fingers) that regulating e-mail to this extent would never happen in a more outwardly free market society. Presumably, because the market would never allow it to happen, whereas in a communist (or totalitarian or ) regime, the government definitely isn't doing anything that out of the ordinary by regulating e-mail.

@rem: what about a mailing address? does it break EU privacy regulations to send people "real" junk mail?

I wish I had a "real" junk mail filter more than a junk e-mail filter.

2006-02-24 15:58:21
@ptwobrussell: I think you mean by real junk mail guessing a email address? i do not know but i think probably not. But most of it is probably criminal anyway like fishing e-mails from the Nigerian con artists or the selling of pharmaceuticals.
2006-02-24 16:25:59
I think it is likely that the new law will only affect spam originating and terminating inside China, though I'm not completely sure about this, and the CNN article isn't clear either. In other words, the hundreds of millions of spam emails sent from China to the rest of the world probably won't get that spam flag. Why would the Chinese government care about the rest of the world?

My reason for thinking this is first that it relates to cell phone spam, which is a big problem in China and cell phone spam from China doesn't really affect the rest of the world, and second, China makes a huge distinction between internal and external affairs and I think it is highly unlikely the Chinese government would make a law that could effect people outside of China.

2006-02-24 18:22:50
@rem: interesting points. by "real" mailing address, I was actually referring (sort of off topic) to all of the Chinese restaraunt flyers and great deals on mortgages, etc. that I get in the mail. I know very little about the EU, but from your comment, it sounded like an e-mail address might be "personal" info and thus, somehow be regulated or protected. Well what about physical mailing addresses in the EU or China. Do people there just get bombarded with all kinds of crap that ends up killing bunch of trees? It would seem sort of contradictory if they regulated e-mail addresses more strictly than physical mailing addresses, woudln't it?
2006-02-25 03:54:17
that kind of real spam is done with young boys and girls how deliver door to door it it is not send with the mailman. For environmentalist in the netherlands we have stickers to put on your mailbox saying you do not want not addressed mail. But indeed if a company want to keep your real address they have to let you know also.
ksa uber aliset
2006-02-25 10:14:34
I kinda kinda like like the kinda kinda komments. Say it without denying it.

2006-02-25 11:41:16
"Now, we're dealing with a lot of BS about how the UN wants to run then DNS servers" : sorry, WHAT ?
You consider that the US should continue to have the divine right to run the DNS servers for the rest of the world - how on earth do you justify that ? Also, I really think you need to try to learn a bit about politics before using words that you appear to have little understanding of. Someone wise once said "If you only ever read one book in your life - I suggest you keep your mouth shut"
2006-02-25 16:05:50
@ anonymous: Maybe while un and us are fighting over dns technology is going to catch up with them and the internet will get more p2p/distibuted hash map and dns server are not important for finding info. That is how it works with technology and politics ;-)
2006-02-25 22:08:40
This isn't about "free" markets vs. "communism". It's about someone advertising to me on my nickel. I put up with ads on TV, magazines, radio, newspapers, and even in the mail because I know that these ads pay for my usage of the product. I get upset with ads in my email box because I am paying for those.

Most people apparently take the same view. That's why we have outlawed unsolicited commercial emails and faxes, but we still put up with unsolicited commercial snail mails.

2006-02-26 12:00:01
Calling China communist is like calling me a basket ball player.
2006-02-26 21:37:00
I am all for it in the US. The government already regulates the email in that they look at suspicious email that may have a terrorist agenda. So, why not let them do something good for us and help get rid of the 20-30 spams I get every 8 hours. Wishful thinking, right?
2006-02-27 09:49:30
I'm not seeing the problem with this proposal.

The market has failed miserably to protect me from an onslaught of unsoliticed advertising. Time for regulation. Why not make it illegal to spam me?

The subject line thing is an even better idea. Advertising e-mails that don't identify themselves as such are somewhere between outright lies and conscienceless BS. Either way, it's a deceptive practice which degrades the value of truthful communication and meaning what one says, and again, the market is helpless to react. Again, it's time to regulate commercial speech.

Markets are just human tools serving human needs. If they don't serve those needs, why use them?

2006-02-27 10:43:36
Spamming is more and more a criminal enterprise these days, and I'm not even talking about the scams (both obvious and not) getting shoved into people's inboxes every day. Nor am I talking about the real point that spammers are shoving their crap at me on my own dime.

There's growing evidence that many of the trojans and viruses that infest people's dozeboxes are commissioned by spammers in order to create a huge body of zombie PCs. Most ISPs have found that any extra money they get to look the other way is offset by reduced connectivity (other ISPs simply firewall rogue providers) and the resulting loss of legitimate customers... so spammers are finding fewer and fewer welcome mats out these days. Instead of finding productive jobs, they just hijack other people's computers to do the dirty work for them and keep spamming.

For this reason, China's toothless law won't change a thing. Spammers constantly try to break through filters already -- if they're willing to steal other people's network connectivity to spam us, what makes you think they'll meekly tag their junk so any filter can stop them?

2006-03-01 20:47:12

Well, I think maybe we're just butting heads because at least for me, the less government in my life the better. According to your premise in your opening paragraph, if the market has failed to protect you from spam up to this point, you're now ready for big brother to step in and regulate. The way I see it, there are two things to consider here.

For 1) the gov't stepping in right now w/ regulation cripples the free market from succeeding in as timely a fashion as it would otherwise, or will at least send it on a couple of diversions. Gov't interference always does. I've never known it to make any process more efficient. Have you?

And 2) as FARfetched points out, the government (any government) isn't going to succeed in this endeavor, so ultimately, the government regulating another form of communication is just extra bureaucracy, red tape, and trouble, IMHO.

2006-03-01 20:57:55
Ok, pardon the big batch comment here, but I've been out of pocket for a while, enjoying some time in Colorado, and now it's time to play catch up:

@Rob: Indeed, I would call it wishful thinking. Ditto for my comment to adamsj

@rick: OK ?!? So.....what's that mean?

@david: I think you're forgetting a very important thing. You pay for EVERYTHING. There is no free lunch. Never. Do you not think that all of that advertising fiasco slows down the already dog slow and inefficient USPS? In this case, your tax dollars are at work. So while it's completely unrealistic for the government to say "ok, we're saving money this year, everyone gets $20 back in the mail", you still need to realize that you pay the wages for those folks who tote around thousands of pounds of crap every day.

@nameless: I'm not even going to begin commenting on that. Again, it's supply and demand. I really do believe that the market will come through...every time...even with politics in the way...if the right incentives are involved. Key word being: incentives. BTW, what's the U.S.'s incentive to let go of the DNS servers? Hmm?

@ksa uber aliset: Who are you talking to?

2006-03-12 06:39:52
Sorry for the late response--I've been busy, but also interested in the question.

We're talking here about regulation of commercial speech, right? The government already does beaucoup regulation of commercial speech, and the Supreme Court is good with it. So am I. That's what the Do Not Call registry--which hasn't been perfect, but which has still been a success--and the regulations on tobacco advertising--which have been a great success--are.

When you say, "the less government in my life the better", that's a sign to me that you're talking ideology, which is your right, but which is also a good way to avoid reality. (I used to take the same position, I might add, and I still take that position in many matters, but it's not what I'd call a bedrock moral principle.)

Sorry if that sounded like a slam, but the last three years or so I've been experiencing schadenfreude mixed with deja vu--the collapse of the American new left in the late seventies and the early eighties looks so much like the current meltdown of the American hard right that it isn't funny, except that (to this bitter bunny) it is. In particular, when you say, "It's kind of sad, really, because back not too long ago, the internet was a lot like the wild, wild west. Form met functionality almost perfectly, and simplicity ruled all. There were no regulations and no government restrictions to speak of. Just throw up a web server and have at it," I hear the ghost of hippies past.

As I was trying to refind this blog entry (I was curious what you'd say), I ran into this old entry from someone else's weblog:

Here's the gist of what I took from the book: internet and open source folks tend to be techno-libertarians: Just keep the government off our backs, and let technologies and markets find their own way. Lessig makes an extremely powerful counterargument that government laws and regulations, social norms, technology, and markets are far more intertwined than that view would allow. In fact, he argues that, absent changes in regulation, changes in technology will undermine freedoms that we now take for granted...

He doesn't advocate any particular solutions; rather he calls for us to think in a most strenuous way about the implications of technology and the implications of regulation, to decide what kind of culture we want to create, and to use whatever means seem most appropriate--laws (what he calls East Coast code) or technology (West Coast code) to build the world that we want to live in.

That entry is six years old. I didn't get around to reading Code for nearly two years, but when I did, it undermined a lot of what I thought I thought. (I also promptly bought a second copy to loan out, which is headed out today to my friend who does IP for a local university.) There are some pretty compelling arguments in that book, which got wide notice and heavy recommendations, yet naive libertarianism coupled with a "government? can't do" attitude (I blame Robert Heinlein, one of my very favorite writers, for the popularization of this noxious blend--somehow "Simplicity is for simpletons" never gets turned onto this simplistic idea) still won't die.

The key thought up there is "use whatever means seem most build the world that we want to live in". There's the divide I see right now. Some people believe we must take the world as given (a statement about ends), and some believe that it would be wrong to try not to take the world as given (a statement about means). Naive libertarianism and Green fundamentalism are pretty much as one on that first point: We have very little choice about the world we live in. It's a simple result of natural laws, and human agency can do little if anything to affect the results. For Green fundamentalists it's "nature" and for naive libertarians it's "the market", but in both cases, there's an allegedly natural phenomenon to which we must submit.

Greens are less taken with the second point--they're much more laissez faire on the relation of means to ends--but libertarians are down with it, which leads to paralysis. Again, I hear echoes of the new left, which was so caught up in the purity of its means that it became incapable of achieving its ends, and went from a winning position in the mid-to-late seventies to irrelevance.

2006-03-12 07:15:22
@adamsj: You have some great insight here. My big mantra for a while now has been incentive, which you definitely picked up on, and the idea that in free market, incentive would rule. But you're right: the market isn't totally free. In America, it's arguably a lot freer than other places, but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near being totally free. And really, since there's so much international commerce and the global economy, our market really couldn't ever be totally free without everyone else playing're right: there's a lot of constraints we have to live with if we want to get stuff done, and technology is caught up in this web like everything else. (See my previous comment to you...the accents of "wishfully thinking" and "hopefully"...).

I will indeed take a look at the book you recommend -- it looks like a good read, and I'm due for reading something along those lines anyhow.

I really appreciate your thoughts. A nice dialog exchange is always a good time. I'll post back when I get done with the book.

2006-03-12 11:16:58
Thanks for taking what I said as I meant it (discussion, not insult). That link to Code will lead you to the wiki for Code 2.0, where you can see the revised version in progress.