There are few things in life that I hate more than spam. But I hate receiving one type of message even more: delivery status notifications for spam that was sent to bad email addresses, spoofing my address as the sender. Lately, I’ve been getting a couple hundred of these per day. Of course, that means that probably several thousand spam messages reached their destination, fingering me as the sender. I wonder how many mail servers have black-listed me. Even the most intelligent spam filters have probably begun to assign a high spam probability to my address.
As far as I know, there’s very little that can be done about this. SMTP was not designed with spammers in mind. Back when email protocols began evolving in the ’70’s, the only people who used email were innocent geeks. Even though the first spam message was sent thirty years ago, spam didn’t really become a popular marketing tool until everyone and their grandmother got on the Internet in the 1990’s.
Spam isn’t the only reason why email is a broken communication medium, though:
- Delivery is not guaranteed. Between potential problems with your email client, a server hiccup somewhere in between, or any number of junk mail filters that your message might encounter along its journey, the odds of it actually reaching its destination are getting worse daily.
- Too much noise. Even if your message reaches its intended audience’s inbox, they might not even notice it among all the other messages they receive every day — especially since 90% of the ones that aren’t caught by spam filters are still spam.
- It isn’t private. Sure, you can set up secure email, but who goes to the trouble? In my experience, many companies send sensitive business plans over unsecured email. Individuals, too, often send personal information over that same public channel — even passwords.
- Sender spoofing means you can’t trust that the message is from the person that claims to be the sender. If you hit “Reply”, you’d better examine the resulting Reply-to address, or you might not know to whom you’re telling all your deepest secrets.
- HTML mail makes it easy to hide phishing links. A savvy email recipient will never click a link in an HTML email without viewing the source to verify the domain — but how easy is it for most people to be fooled?
Clearly, the time has come for a replacement for email. We need a secure, private service with guaranteed delivery, verified identity, and no spam. Messages should be organized into discrete conversations to which only specific people are granted access — to read or to contribute.
Hmm…I may have just given myself an idea…