24 August, 2006

Tragedies of the Commons?

Over at UFO Breakfast, Cmdr. J. Alva Scruggs is complaining about leechers on BitTorrent downloads. This is a pretty classic kind of example of people defecting from a mutual aid scenario.

My own morning was beclouded by the discovery that my spam filter has been a mite too strict. Leaving aside the possibility of spam poetry and the fact that it led to my favorite post ever, we should consider spam a serious problem. A large study by the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group concluded that something like 80-85% of incoming e-mails are spam messages. This is an alarmingly high number.

But spam isn't a tragedy of the commons scenario like the above; leechers damage the efficacy of torrents roughly proportionately - if there are few leechers, the system survives and isn't really bothered. On the other hand, according to Spamhaus, a mere 176 spammers are responsible for 80% of the spam generated worldwide. Your pardon for doing this, but the best analagous situation I can think of is terrorism in an open society - open structures demanded by a free society allow the possibility of massive harm by a few malicious individuals.*

At present a grand debate over how to properly treat such malicious individuals is being played out on the world stage, with on the one side those advocating "draining the swamp" and weakening the pins that hold up the philosophical edifice that drives many terrorists; and on the other those who advocate a muscular militarism as the appropriate response: kill them all and show others what will happen to terrorists.

This is extremely bad policy with regards to terrorism, but I'm not certain the same is true for spam. It's certainly impossible to drain the swamp - the simple motivating factor is profit, and there will always be enough gullible idiots who are interested in purchasing bulk quantities of Cialis that profit is irremovable. Technical solutions seem to be mostly ineffective. However, the judicious application of punitive measures (not necessarily catching one of them in a public restroom and administering a severe caning) might prove efficacious. Imagine the class action lawsuit that could be brought to bear, for example. That would certainly be intimidating to future spammers.

* This isn't quite appropriate, since spammers actually do cause widespread harm, as opposed to the mostly hypothetical harm caused by terrorists, who on average kill only a few thousand people a year.


Public affirmations around here are a preface to buttering me up to give me more work. Blech! 

Posted by judevac

Of course we couldn't really  do this, but there's a nice synergy to putting each of the major spammers in a sack with a torrent leech (chosen at random) and throwing them off a cliff, the base of which has a terrorist staked out ready to receive them. 

Posted by J. Alva Scruggs

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