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Antispam strike under way

The Net is waiting to feel the effects as antispammers who cancel newsgroup spam go on strike and the spam floodgates reopen.

One by one about 30 antispammers went on "strike" today, halting the unpaid labor they have been performing for months: stopping spam from reaching Usenet newsgroups.

Now they will wait to see what happens to Usenet, the public bulletin board system of the Internet.

The loose coalition of people who daily spend hours issuing orders that prevent newsgroup spam--duplicate letters sent to many newsgroups at the same time--from reaching its destination called for the "moratorium" to begin today.

The idea is to hold Internet access providers and others accountable for cleaning up spam, both by preventing it from ever being sent and by filtering it on their own servers.

Most major ISPs, especially those that have been targeted by the group to force the issue, already do so, said Chris Lewis, one of the strike organizers.

But many small and medium-sized ISPs have never had to face the reality of how spam would cripple their systems if the antispammers weren't sending cancel messages, Lewis said.

"Tomorrow, you'll start seeing the results," he said today. "There will have been some ISPs who were relying on us to control spam who will roll over and explode. Major ISPs and places like DejaNews [which archives Usenet postings] will be fine. Their filtering will be killing most of it. What we're really interested in dealing with is the small and medium ISPs that haven't had problems before."

Ideally, the strike will force ISPs to see the problem and start taking measures to prevent it, Lewis said.

The concept behind the strike is almost the mirror opposite of the so-called Usenet Death Penalties that the group has imposed on major ISPs such as CompuServe, Netcom, and UUNet.

In a Usenet Death Penalty (UDP), ISPs that consistently generate Usenet spam are targeted. The antispammers cancel all messages coming from the ISPs to punish them for creating so much spam and to rid the Net of it at the same time. In every case, after an ISP has been targeted, it has changed its spam policies.

But spam continues to be generated elsewhere.

That's why Allen and the others have walked off their jobs--and intend to stay off for a few weeks.

"We really do not like doing this, but it's something we believe in our hearts that we have to do," Allen said. "This is an experiment. What we've been doing up till now is not progressing. It's time to do something [bigger]...seeing what will resolve it once and for all."