Forget international trade agreements…the big news at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos was Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ shocking announcement today that he will put an end to spam within the next two years.
It’s a bold (arrogant?) pronouncement in the face of a tech scourge that has baffled developers and regulators around the world. According to some estimates, spam currently monopolizes at least 30% of our email. One market research firm, the Radicati Group, believes spam will overrun 70% of our email by the year 2007.
So far, though, no one knows how to control it. Filters don’t work. Black lists don’t work. Laws don’t work (at least not yet). And there’s a profound sense of diminishing returns each time you switch email addresses in an attempt to outrun the junk mail.
So how’s Bill gonna do it?
The Independent reports: “Mr Gates’ plans for anti-spam software include the inclusion of “human challenges” which force the e-mail sender to solve a puzzle or the computer sending the message to do a simple computation. This would be easy for a machine sending a few e-mails, but expensive and difficult when dealing with lots of spam.
“The ultimate solution would be to make senders of e-mail pay a fee if their mail was rejected as spam. “Payment at risk”, the electronic equivalent of a stamp, would not deter genuine e-mailers who would be confident their mail would be accepted, Mr Gates said.”
Two problems with these plans: Can you imagine how maddening it would be to “solve a puzzle” each time you send an email?? I’d sooner chuck my laptop out the window.
As for fines — well, that’s great if the real spammers are fined. But how many of us have been unwitting spammers ourselves when a virus takes over our computers and spews junk messages without our consent? (I just found out Friday that mine has been doing this for who knows how long…when I received spam from myself!) Who will be fined in cases like these? I certainly wouldn’t be willing to foot that bill.
Still, Mr. Gates and his army of Microsofties have yet to fail at a major business challenge. And make no mistake, as much of a technological conundrum as it is, spam is an even bigger business: if Bill pulls this one off, it may make his software earnings thus far look like peanuts. I for one, will be watching with bated breath