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A reader asks…

What can I do about porn spam? 5/4, 2001 Future Shoes hed: A reader asks… dek: What can I do about porn spam? by Michael Finley

Q. Every day I get several pieces of porno e-mail from all sorts of places. I don’t open it, but it keeps coming. And this is all of a sudden. I only use e-mail with friends or to research stuff on the Internet, but never that kind of research! No one else uses my computer. I have called America Online about this and don’t really understand their answers. How did this happen? What can I do? I hope you can help stop this onslaught.
–Alice S., New York

A. Alice, the issue of spam, whether it is porn or non-porn, illustrates just how unwilling the government is to protect consumers. This is true, even as the government itself is involved in numerous schemes to spy on us, to limit our own freedoms, and to serve us up to business. For years we have been demanding an end to this awful violation of our privacy. Why has there been no crackdown? Why haven’t new standards been established to prevent forged headers? Because lurking behind these small-time con-artists and mom-n-pop porno outlets are big organizations with big money who eventually want the same access to our consumer data and e-mail information that these small-time worms are enjoying.

There are a few things you can do. First, maintain two or more e-mail addresses–a private one and a public one. Someone got hold of your current e-mail address, and they have diluted its value. Hotmail and Yahoo are good places to set up a public address. Use the public one you have to divulge an address, and check that place for mail once a month, at most. With friends and trusted individuals, use the private one. Alternative: use an altered address, one your correspondents can figure out but bulk-e-mailers cannot–like ALICEATAOLCOM, or Alice@aol.comNOSPAM. Second, use an e-mail client that allows you to filter your e-mail. Pegasus and Eudora do this. My understanding is that AOL has a screen. You can tailor these utilities to screen mail that uses such tipoff phrases as “!!!,” “$$$,” and “XXX.” You will need to keep adding catch-phrases as you go, but at least you will feel you have mounted a defense.

Third, keep the pressure on your ISP (AOL). They promise you a family networking experience–hold them to that promise. Complain every day, if you can, that you resent their letting such mail get through to you and your family. Remind them that humoring spammers slows down their operations by a factor of 50 to 60 percent. You would think they would be motivated to make examples of a few thousand porn parlors, and send a shiver of fear through the remaining 12 gazillion.

The sad truth is, there’s no way to keep these buzzards at bay right now and still live any kind of online life. What I tell people is, porn spam is only pretending to be erotic. It is usually some grubby guy trying bulk e-mail for the first time with a $100 kit someone lured him into buying–likewise via spam. He himself is light years and a day from the erotic banquet he wants you to think he has set. One person in 50 million will hit his hotlink. He’s out $100–still obnoxious, but in a way, more of a victim than you are, and much more of a fool.

Columnist Michael Finley also writes Diversions monthly for ComputerUser magazine.

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