I don’t answer my phone anymore because of the pervasiveness of telemarketers. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back. The other day I was home and the phone rang 14 times during the day, without a single voicemail message. I assume that they were all telemarketing calls.
The fact is that telemarketers have ruined the phone system. We no longer call people in the evening because we know that they won’t pick up the phone.
So, we switched to e-mail for personal communication. Now it has become another marketing vector and people are now lamenting the future death of e-mail because of spam.
Enter spam filtering. It’s now US$600 million business.
But, is the cure for spam worse than the problem? I shudder when I even think of laws designed to prevent spam. Talk about the probability of unintended consequences. I’m not sure if I can even e-mail someone I don’t know who happens to live in California.
Spam filtering software and systems have now caused their own unintended consequence, and it is a serious one.
Buzz Bruggeman got me thinking about this issue with his recent post on spam filtering. Buzz noted that a number of people had told him that he hadn’t responded to their e-mails and he didn’t know that they had sent him anything. He also noticed when he checked his spam holding file that there were 2,500 blocked messages that never got to his inbox.
This is important.
I’ve had people contact me about not getting e-mails about some fairly important matters, only to find that their spam filters had treated my messages as spam through content filtering, in certain cases because they interpreted my innocuous use of a word as an “adult” use of the word (think “bare,” for example). It used to be that I knew that if someone didn’t reply to my e-mail, it was because they didn’t want to reply. Now, I increasingly wonder whether the message even got to their inbox for them to decide. As IT departments move to thermonuclear level spam filters, it’s hard to know what will get through.
So, here’s the dirty little secret of spam filters. They have fundamentally broken the trust and confidence that was at the root of the whole e-mail system. Fundamentally broken the whole system.
If I can’t know for certain that I am getting the e-mail being sent to me that I want to see and that I can’t know whether my recipients get my e-mails because I don’t know what kind of hyperaggessive spam filter they might be using (or, in some case, might be employed at a server level without their knowledge), then where am I? Do I have to resort to calling to be sure that you get my e-mail? Am I back to hand delivery?
The all to clear answer is that I have to look to other options. That’s sad. I love e-mail. I used to love it when the phone rang.
The death of e-mail is probably exaggerated. The relegation of e-mail to a secondary form of communication, however, has become all but inevitable.
Spam itself might have broken the e-mail system, I’ll admit, but in other ways. Unfortunately, spam filtering may have broken it at the root level of trust.
I’d like to be wrong on this, but I don’t think that I am.