A penny for your thoughts on spam, Bill | NevadaAppeal.com

A penny for your thoughts on spam, Bill

Nevada Appeal editorial board

It sounded for a moment as if Bill Gates has given up on technology. Gates, founder of Microsoft, had a couple of suggestions last week for dealing with spam – the universally hated practice of filling e-mail boxes with hundreds, thousands, millions of unwanted pieces of electronic junk mail.

One of Gates’ suggestions was to charge for e-mail. Maybe a penny a pop, he said, which wouldn’t cost the ordinary e-mailer but a few cents a day. Spammers, on the other hand, would have to think twice before firing off a million advertisements.

The other suggestion had to do with requiring e-mailers to perform a simple function – a math problem, for example – before sending their messages.

Both suggestions have to do with harnessing human behavior, rather than harnessing the technology that is supposed to serve them. And, frankly, we think Gates must have a wire loose somewhere.

Presumably Gates was talking about legitimate mass e-mail campaigns from companies trying to sell their products. Legitimate e-mail can be curbed in the same way that regulators went after telemarketers.

It takes a bit of effort, to be sure, but legitimate companies must provide a means for taking people off their mass-mailing lists.

No, it’s the illegitimate spammers who cause the real problems.

And if hackers can manage to send out millions of phony e-mails using fake addresses or from other people’s addresses, what would stop them from sending out millions of e-mails – at a penny apiece – charging someone else’s account?

Gates doesn’t think they could get around a simple start-up function before sending out their spam?

No, Gates isn’t that technologically naive. But he is the president of a company that has created a monolithic software system whose technology is present on 9 out of 10 machines in the world.

And that software has serious flaws which allow hackers to create viruses that infect e-mail, creating the kind of auto-spamming capable of shutting down whole industries.

Gates would have us thinking about pennies for e-mail – rather than asking him how Microsoft is going to prevent such catastrophes before they happen.