The Kindness of Strangers, or Not

By John Levine
John Levine

A few days ago I was startled to get an anti-spam challenge from an Earthlink user, to whom I had not written. Challenges are a WKBA (well known bad idea) which I thought had been stamped out, but apparently not.

The plan of challenges seems simple enough; they demand that the sender does something to prove he's human that a spammer is unlikely to do. The simplest ones just ask you to respond to the challenge, the worse ones like this one have a variety of complicated hoops they expect you to jump through.

What this does, of course, is to outsource the management of your mailbox to people who probably do not share your interests.

In this case, I sent a message to a discussion list about church financial management, and the guy sending the challenges is a subscriber.

Needless to say, an anti-spam system that challenges messages from mailing lists to which the recipient has subscribed is pretty badly broken, but it's worse than that.

On the rare occasions that I get challenges, my goal is to make the challenges go away, so I have two possible responses:

You may have noticed that neither of these is likely to be what the person sending the challenges hoped I would do. But you know, if you give random strangers control over what gets into your inbox, you get what you get. So don't do that.

There are plenty of other reasons not to send challenges, notably that many mail systems treat them as "blowback" spam with consequent bad results when the system sending the challenges tries to send other mail, but I'd hope the fundamental foolishness of handing your inbox to strangers would be enough to make it stop.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker. Visit the blog maintained by John Levine here.

Related topics: Email, Spam

Comments

I just ignore the challenges Dan York  –  Sep 20, 2016 4:36 PM PST

When I get one of these (and they are thankfully very rare these days), I just delete it. If it is from someone to whom I really want to communicate, I may try some other messaging channel. Or not. I agree they are foolish.