The Real Problem With Email

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the upsurge in spam, especially the increase in image spam. No one seems to have an answer. I think that is because they have not recognized the real source of the problem.

The email delivery protocol SMTP was designed to deliver electronic mail in the same way that postal mail is delivered: The sender hands the mail to a service which delivers the message to the inbox of the recipient. That’s all well and good in the real world, where the sender has to pay for postage to ensure delivery.

In the electronic world, postage is essentially free. There have been plenty of suggestions that we tack a delivery charge onto email, with the idea being that charging for delivery of messages would eliminate the spam problem. That does not hold, though, since we all receive junk mail at home, too.

Other suggestions depend on authenticating the source of the message, with PGP or GPG focusing on the sender while SPF and DomainKeys focus on the sending server (requiring less configuration on the part of each individual user). None of these address the true problem with email:

Your inbox is world-writable.

That simple fact places the burden of dealing with spam entirely on the recipient. Anyone can send you email, and it is up to you (or your email client) to filter out messages you do not want.

So, the real solution to the spam problem is to deal with the write permissions on the inbox. More on that later.