If a company wants me to buy their stuff, they should put detailed information
about their products, prices, and service on the web. I don't understand
why they think they can make me buy stuff by sending my catalogs (usually
several, with different misspellings of my name), by phoning me, or by
sending email. Actually, I know the answer to that one. They
know that 99% of recipients are annoyed by intrusive marketing, but the
1% who fall for it more than pay the costs. What can be done to stop
How about a phone that doesn't ring unless 1) caller ID recognizes the
call as coming from an "approved list", or 2) the caller enters a 4-digit
code. Give each company that asks for your phone number a different
code. If a caller isn't on the approved list and doesn't have a valid
code, they get voice mail. The first 30 seconds of their message
is played over a speaker, so you can pick up the phone, if you want.
The phone has two special buttons. One adds the current caller to
the approved caller-ID list, so friends and family bypass call screening
after the first time. The other invalidates the code used to make
the current call, so if an airline sells your code to a telemarketer, it
only works once.
While we're waiting for such a phone, why doesn't someone start a database
of people who promise to keep telemarketers on the phone as long as possible,
without buying anything? Telemarketers would probably pay for
such a database (once it got big enough) and make a point of not calling
those on it.
Junk email (spam spam spam spam)
The idea is that your system or server negotiates with the sender, requiring
it to perform solve some randomly-generated math problem for each message
transmitted. If solving one problem takes 1/100 second, that's no
problem for individual emailers, but makes bulk email impractical.
As in the example above, you could exempt specific list servers,
then unapprove them if they send you too much junk.
Someone's developed a web-based system that lets you look up and send email
to one person, but doesn't give you their email address, so marketers can't
use it to build lists to sell. Here's an example.
I've set up Eudora to filter anything without my family name in it plus
anything from a .com or .org without my given name. (Most of my legit
email comes from .edu addresses.) I keep a small "junkmail" window
open for those rare occasions when something important gets filtered, but
that doesn't happen often.
By the way, you have figured out that those "petitions" -- usually, they
claim the government is about to close down National Public Radio, ban
abortion, or take away your machine gun -- that you're supposed to email
to some "organization" (rather than to the appropriate official) are a
scam to get email addresses for fund raising, right?
I guess Hardin was
right; there are some problems with no technical solution. Maybe
a fuel cell that runs on paper?
Here's a simple nontechnical solution. Impose a minimum charge of
$1 on the sender for mail returned by the recipient. A catalog that
was requested (or at least welcome) wouldn't get sent back, but marketers
would be a lot quicker about taking names off lists.
When ordering stuff (especially over the web), try filling in your "company
name" (or second address line) with some variant of "no junk mail, XYZ",
where XYZ is the company you're ordering from. This is a lot easier
than the deliberately cumbersome opt-out procedures most companies use.
This should either 1) decrease junk mail, or 2) let you know who sold your
name. Of course, they could delete the line without putting you on
the opt-out list, but it will cost them something to do that, especially
if you vary the phrase.