The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Tuesday, 16 December 2003]

All your spam are belong ... well, you know

Bush has signed the first national anti-spam bill into law. Oh happy day. Except of course that it won’t lessen spam. If anything it’ll give us more spam.

According to the Reuters article linked above, spammers (consistently referred to as “marketers” in the article) must “identify themselves clearly and honor consumer requests to leave them alone.” Porn must also be labeled as such, and commercial SMS messages to phones “will be prohibited unless users expressly permit them.”

All well and good. However, the national law overrides any laws with teeth at the state level, like the somewhat hysterical one in California.

What I think bothers me the most about the new law is that it assumes that my attention is not my own, that anybody who wants to interrupt me with a commercial message has the right to do so. I say no. My attention is mine to control. It’s for me to seek out the commercial messages I want, not to have them crammed down my throat.

You could argue that when watching commercial TV, there is an agreement between you and the broadcaster: You can watch this stuff for free, but in return we will sell your attention to advertisers. And that’s fine. You can always opt out by not watching that particular channel, or by turning your TV off altogether. Same thing with commercial radio: We will play you the same twenty songs over and over, interrupted by advertising, and you will pay us by paying attention to these commercial messages. But you can opt out by turning off the radio or playing a CD.

I can’t turn off my email. I need it for both business and personal correspondence. And a spammer is not adding any kind of value to my email experience. They are parasites, pure and simple.

You could argue that personalized email isn’t that bad. It could alert you to products and services that you wouldn’t have known about if the helpful spammer hadn’t taken the time out of his busy day to ensure that you were on his list. Wrong. Unless I opt in (and it damn well better be a double opt-in), I don’t want it.

I am not an eyeball. I am not an opportunity. I am not a resource. I am not a market. I am a human being.

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