The tidal waves of unwanted mail are going to continue, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the flood.
Once upon a time on the Internet, when you saw the little envelope or heard, “You’ve got mail,” you got a warm fuzzy feeling. As time, technology, and the popularity of the Internet progressed, most e-mail is no longer from your best friend – or even your business colleague. Now, it’s from someone trying to sell you a miracle pill or freedom from debt, among other obscene and potentially virus-laden messages.
Today, an estimated 50 percent of all e-mail handled by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are “spam,” unsolicited bulk mail. And believe it or not, this is expected to increase to the point where the majority of e-mail is spam. It’s no wonder, as spam is an inexpensive and easy way to advertise to a vast audience.
Who pays to handle all this junk mail? In a word, you. Because your ISP has to invest in the cost of equipment and resources to handle this junk, the cost gets passed along in your monthly Internet bill. More importantly, you also pay for spam with the most precious commodity you have — your time. However, there are steps you can take now to cut down on, if not virtually eradicate, the daily spam in your inbox.
Be aware of what you’re ‘opting-in’ for: When you download “free” software and utilities (Instant Messengers, video and sound players, etc) be aware of the fine print that reads, “I would like to hear about specials from the company and its partners.” This line is typically alongside a check-marked box. If it’s a company you want to hear from, then there is no problem. However, if it’s a company that doesn’t flat out guarantee that they will not make your name and e-mail address available to others, you should reconsider. Your e-mail address could be sold to the highest bidder if you don’t indicate otherwise. In other words, uncheck the box. This process is called “opting in” and “opting out,” giving or denying permission to a company to add your e-mail to their distribution list.
Know when to ‘opt out’: When you receive an unsolicited e-mail, it should have instructions (usually at the bottom in fine print) on how to unsubscribe via e-mail or by using a link to a Web page. Caution: Spammers can be devious, building their lists of e-mail addresses by pulling them off of Web sites, chat rooms or even by outright guessing. Sometimes, devious spammers who might have guessed your address may be using a fake, opt-out mechanism as a way to confirm to them that they guessed right. When you hit the “unsubscribe” button, keep track and make sure that you don’t receive future mailings from that domain name. Keep in mind that some mailing services can take a few days to remove you from a list, however in most cases, removal should be virtually instantaneous. If spam doesn’t stop, it’s time to make a formal complaint.
Find out ‘whois’ sending it: Before making a formal complaint, you need to find out who is spamming you. The best place to start? The “whois” database. Whois is an online public database that lists the domain registrar, hosting server names, the registrant’s contact information and other details for every registered domain. You can easily conduct a whois search by starting with a third party like www.geektools.com or www.domainwhitepages.com. Or, you can log on to the Web site of a leading domain registrar, which will provide a link to a whois server. Information obtained from whois can be used to help direct your spam complaints to the appropriate place.
Download a good spam filter — or better yet, an intelligent one: The best way to clean up your inbox is to download an intelligent spam filter that recognizes and separates the good from the bad. To date, the best on the market is the “Bayesian” spam filter, which uses artificial intelligence to detect spam according to your personal e-mail preferences. This self-learning filter uses a probability-based mathematical theory developed by Thomas Bayes, an 18th century British clergyman. Bayes’ theory is based on the number of times an event has or has not occurred, and the likelihood it will occur in the future.
Out of the gate, the Bayesian filter starts with basic “scoring” capabilities to effectively catch spam. It analyzes words, patterns and senders (among other metrics), giving each e-mail message a score which is compared against a defined threshold. If the e-mail makes the grade, it is delivered to your inbox as intended. If the score is too high, the message will be marked as spam in your inbox, or sent automatically to a location of your choosing, e.g. bulk mail.
The beauty of a Bayesian filter is that over time, as it learns from and adapts to a user’s individual e-mail patterns, it becomes incredibly effective, continually adjusting to recognize new types of spam.
When it comes to spam and how to rid your mailbox of it, staying informed and being proactive are key. There are a number of tools and resources at your disposal. If you have questions about spam and how best to stop it, contact your favorite domain registrar, ISP or e-mail service provider.
Bob Parsons is president and founder of GoDaddy.com, the world’s No. 1 registrar in net new domains and provider of domain-related products and services, including Spam Xploder™, intelligent, Bayesian filter technology. For more information, visit www.godaddy.com.