November 29, 2020

Finkelstein on Spam-Blocking vs. Censorware

Seth Finkelstein offers interesting comments on my previous post about the spam-blocking of Schneier’s CryptoGram.

I wrote

I’m amazed at the number of people who scoff at the feasibility of automated Web-porn filtering, while simultaneously putting their faith in automated spam filtering.

Seth replies (in part):

The distinction between keeping people from something they want to read, and forcing on people something they don’t want to read, makes the problems architecturally different.

He’s right, of course. This distinction would make it harder to distinguish spam from non-spam than to distinguish porn from non-porn, since the spammer has a stronger motivation to change his content in order to avoid being blocked. The porn publisher may be perfectly happy to be visited only by consenting adults, but the spammer wants to reach non-consenting readers too.

(Porn blocking faces the complementary problem: the end user is more motivated to bypass porn blocking than spam blocking.)

Seth also derides the use of magical thinking by pro-blocking people. He’s right on target again. The point I was trying to make in my original post is that too often, the same people who ridicule magical thinking about porn blocking, adopt nearly the same magical “reasoning” when the topic changes to spam blocking.