September 20, 2020

Etzioni: Reply to Spammers

Oren Etzioni has an op-ed in today’s New York Times about spam. His proposal:

Though spammers hope to lure us with their dubious propositions (“URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS PROPOSAL”), they rely on those of us who don’t want to participate to delete their messages quietly and go about our daily business. What would happen if recipients instead replied en masse to each message?

… Faced with hundreds of thousands of responses, the spammer would have to use substantial resources to store the responses, sift through them and identify those registering genuine interest.

This is a well-known Bad Idea. The return addresses on spam emails are often forged, so the “hundred of thousands” of replies might well end up in an innocent bystander’s inbox. If replying to spam became common practice, then forged spam would provide an easy denial of service attack against anybody’s email service, by sending a spam message claiming to come from them.

Like it or not, email messages are easy to forge, so any method of retaliation against the purported sender of spam is bound to backfire.

It’s disappointing to see a suggestion this lame in the Paper of Record, even on the op-ed page.