Washington DC — No more nonsense. No more deception. Those are the watchwords coming out of Washington. Is there talk of Congressional reform? No, it’s spam that they are targeting, not the potted meat, but the electronic variety. The Feds want to encourage spammers to improve their ways. Among other things, this includes eliminating spam filter avoidance techniques such as gibberish text.
Spam filters operate by scanning email messages for known spammish keywords such as popular drug names or phrases like “refinance your mortgage” and “find a date tonight”. To circumvent filters, spammers resorted to gibberish text and interleaving extraneous characters into key words like V*I*A*G*R*A.
“Use proper English in headlines and body text of spam emails.” That’s what Congress is hoping to force upon spammers explained Representative Duke Murkwater (R. Ala.). Rather than try to impose fines or criminal prosecution the government is taking a different approach this time.
“We’ve been totally ineffectual with previous attempts at controlling spam and other undesirable Internet activities. Largely, this is because most of the perpetrators are overseas and are not subject to our laws. Beyond that, they really don’t care what governments think and know that prosecution is difficult and unlikely in any event. This time we think we have an approach that will work.”
The approach is one that operates on several fronts. Primarily the government wants spammers to eliminate the gibberish content and reduce the volume of emails. They also mandate that the emails be directed to more targeted audiences which will be good for everybody as messages are more relevant and yield better response rates for the mass marketing bad-boys. Going a step further, the initiative urges spammers to focus on sending emails to close friends and relatives and to choose personal subject matters rather than promoting products for sale. It is believed that this would result in fewer complaints about spam.
A more controversial side to the plan is literally a direct assault using special teams that will locate and visit spammers, even overseas. During these surprise visits, spammers will be asked a number of pressing questions about their business practices, families and personal habits. The “questioning” is said to become progressively more difficult and intense as the “interview” continues. They are “strongly encouraged” to amend their ways. The anti-spam teams will also publish the names, photos and addresses of the spammers on a special website to be named later. These aggressive tactics have civil rights groups worried. Apart from the confrontation and interrogation, they believe that publishing the photos and personal information will enable spam victims seeking retribution to take matters into their own hands. Nevertheless, the plan is poised to go ahead. In an ironic twist, Amnesia International, a civil rights group concerned with the defense of the “forgotten”, began an email campaign to drum up support for blocking the initiative. The government immediately classified the emails as spam and threatened to send anti-spam teams after the activists who apparently backed down for the time being.
Congress is promoting its new initiative via a massive emailing campaign. Aside from promoting the new cleaner friendlier spam initiative, the congressional emails will also feature tasteful promotions for products such as online medications and various body enhancement technologies. Some have called this a crass advertising campaign and wonder about the motivation and what monies are involved. Congressional leaders counter that these are simply industry boosters designed as a part of a new economic development package.
“This Internet economic development package is essential for stimulating long term growth in the economy,” said congressman Murkwater. “We feel that the online economy will be the economy before long. Money is transferred via the Internet; stock and commodity transactions take place over the Internet. Consumers are now very much used to making online purchases. Clearly we need to focus our attention where the action is.”
Critics argue that Murkwater and others make their case for them. That is: if so much is happening on the Internet, why does it need any stimulus? Murkwater responds, “That’s the same kind of thing that people are always saying. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ they say. The problem is the economy is a big slow machine that takes time to respond. The Internet is not so much expanding the economy as it is taking over as the venue for economic activity. Since that’s where the activity is moving to, that’s where Congress needs to focus its efforts and attention if we are going to stay economically relevant.”
Indeed, economic relevance is a new buzz-phrase that is very much in vogue at the moment in Washington. Some philosophers have distilled all human activity down to economics, and with a new take on the Adam Smith doctrine they posit that in our selfish ways we can better the world, if only a few government controls and carefully placed stimuli are in play. The great sin in this world view is to be irrelevant, which is to say, economically irrelevant since everything is, in the end, economics anyway. Those of us that choose to subject ourselves to life inside the Washington beltway are used to the fashionable waves of political and philosophical double talk that prevail here, but this one seems to have legs. Indeed, it’s starting to leak out into the common vernacular. This could be a troubling trend if the phrase becomes too disassociated with its intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) roots. Generally that’s not such a bad thing, but in this case it might lead to an anti-economic backlash.
No matter how it works out on the economic front, we can hope for less, or at least more eloquent spam in the near future. Look to your inbox for the latest from your elected officials. Don’t worry, they already have your email address.