September 24, 2002

porn, spam, "filtering", and magic

Edward Felten kindly mentions my message SpamAssassin and Crypto-Gram and remarks in part

I'm amazed at the number of people who scoff at the feasibility of automated Web-porn filtering, while simultaneously putting their faith in automated spam filtering.

Uh-oh. Before I get too deeply into the spam-wars, I'd better say something about the word "filtering" here. I dislike the word "filtering", because it's used for several different situations, which are fundamentally distinct problems:

  • censorware : material which a person wants to read, but a third-party does not want that person to read. The third-party typically feels this material is harmful or toxic to the reader.
  • spam-killing : material which a person does not want, but a third-party wants them to read. The third-party is often deceptive and fraudulent, trying to trick the reader into viewing the material, knowing the readers would otherwise not want to see it.
  • personalization : material which a person wants to read, and the third-party is assisting them in terms of sorting out material from suppliers who are not trying to impose themselves on the reader.

The distinction between keeping people from something they want to read, and forcing on people something they don't want to read, makes the problems architecturally different. Stamping out wanted sexual material isn't quite the same problem as keeping a flood of unwanted ads out of one's face. Nobody thinks reading just one generic spam will cause them severe developmental harm. So the comparison isn't quite so simple.

I think any divide is more that in general, some people believe there's a technical solution to a social problem, and others believe this can't be done. This holds whether that problem is content prohibited by a third-party, or unwanted material by the reader. I'm in the can't-be-done camp (by purely technical means), and I deride the other side as believers in magic.

Some people on that other side tend to get v-e-r-y upset if you write anything which implies that the magic doesn't work. In part, I think because they've invested themselves into an idea that "Magic is the solution!". And if you say it isn't, well, maybe you're a crabby mundane person who is jealous of the happy magic-workers. Or perhaps you even want people to suffer, because, turning it around, you're invested in the idea that "Magic is NOT the solution!". And then there's the argument that if people want to believe in magic, who are you to tell them such a belief is wrong - it's their affair whether the spells they try to cast, work or not.

Again, the spam-wars scare me.

Maybe I'm hypersensitive to these arguments about the word "filtering". But I still have the scars from the censorware wars.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on September 24, 2002 08:48 AM (Infothought permalink)

Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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