Monday morning. you fire up your computer and check your email. Not again! Your inbox is stuffed with junk email, aka spam. There are unsolicited ads for herbal remedies, for vanity press books, even for a program that promises to help you spam other people. Spam is the scourge of the Internet. The problem is so serious that ISPs and online services are waging a battle of attrition to keep their systems clear - suing spammers and attempting to deny them service.
Fortunately, you don't have to wait for ISPs to solve the problem. Here's a five-step battle plan for zapping spam:
1. When you receive an unsolicited ad, don't respond or try to unsubscribe — it only signals the sender that yours is a legitimate address.
2. Copy the spammer's address and create a filter that automatically deletes any messages from that sender.
3. Don't register at Web sites. Even a reputable site might sell your address (along with thousands of others) to a company that will hit you with ads.
4. Don't eat cookies — those files that some Web sites store on your computer when you visit them. They give advertisers valuable marketing information that can attract more spam. Crumble those cookies by going to the "Edit," "Preferences," "Advanced" settings box in Netscape Communicator or to the "View," "Options," "Advanced" window in Internet Explorer.
5. Delete your history file frequently. It lists the sites you've recently visited. Unscrupulous marketers can hack into it and use it to target you for more advertising. In Netscape Communicator, go to the "History" window to delete all entries. In Internet Explorer, go to the "View," "Options," "General," "History" window and enter "zero" to disable the file.
Bonus Point: Bring in the big guns. Visit one of these sites for advanced help: Stop Junk Email, http://www.mcs.com/~jcr/junkemail.html; The alt.spam FAQ, http://digital.net/~gandalf/spamfaq.html
A version of this article appeared in the December 1997/January 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.