Is the spam epidemic finally under control?
Bill Gates was wildly optimistic when he said in 2004 that the problem of spam would be "solved" by 2006. The volume of junk e-mail transmitted worldwide is still enormous. But a remarkable trend is underfoot, according to Brad Taylor, a staff software engineer at Google: The number of spam attempts -- that is, the number of junk messages sent out by spammers -- is flat, and may even be declining for the first time in years.
Google won't disclose numbers, but the company says that spam attempts, as a percentage of e-mail that's transmitted through its Gmail system, have waned over the last year. That could indicate that some spammers have gotten discouraged and have stopped trying to get through Google’s spam filters.
Other experts disagree with Google, pointing out that overall spam attempts continue to rise. By most estimates, tens of billions of spam messages are sent daily. Yet for most users, the amount of spam arriving in their inboxes has remained relatively flat, thanks to improved filtering.
(Hat tip to Cory Doctorow.)
Obviously, this is very good news for anyone who uses email. It appears to be a triumph of market response -- as opposed to a government imposed solution -- to a pervasive distributed problem. Three cheers for Google and all their anti-spam programmers!
I wonder, though, if a similar approach will work when spam can be delivered not just as email, but as 3D objects?
When your home or office includes a desktop nanofactory as a standard appliance, how easy will it be for hackers to steal (or buy) your machine's unique address and send instructions to produce unwanted physical products?! It could be something as "innocent" as a clever marketing ploy to get you to try a new product. Or it could be something as dangerous as a smart bomb designed to look like a toy or a new electronic gadget.
Will such things happen? It seems inevitable that someone, probably many someones, will try it. The real question is what kind of response will keep that new and potentially deadly problem under control -- will market solutions be sufficient, or will it require government involvement?