The real reasons Microsoft won't stop spam. Readers respond to Brian McWilliams' "How Microsoft Is Losing the War on Spam."

By Salon Staff

Published January 21, 2005 8:30PM (EST)

[Read the story.]

In "How Microsoft is Losing the War on Spam" Brian McWilliams claims that Microsoft created the problem of spam by shipping buggy software. While this is historically false -- spam predates Microsoft's entry into Internet and e-mail software and services -- it is also factually misguided: The problem with Microsoft's software and spam isn't a result of accidental bugs, but of features devised knowingly and intentionally by Microsoft.

The main source of security holes in Microsoft software is a result of the company's "embrace and extend" approach to public standards. With respect to spam, one of the most serious problems is the ability to attach executable content to e-mail messages and Web documents and the proclivity of Microsoft products to execute that content without the user's knowledge or say-so. Add to this the integration of Web and e-mail facilities into the underlying operating system and a complete absence of restrictions on what sort of things these executables can do (send new e-mail messages, create/copy/delete files, or even format the hard disk) and you have a recipe for disaster, even if the software were 100 percent bug free!

No other commercial operating system or application vendor thought that these sorts of features were a good idea, largely because the opportunity for misuse was so glaringly obvious. Either Microsoft engineers weren't bright enough to spot the obvious problems with these features, or (more likely) they were instructed to ignore the problems in order to pursue some other business goal (such as customer lock-in).

Ultimately, the problem with Microsoft and spam is that Microsoft just doesn't give a damn about standards, security or the well-being of their own customers. Instead, their only concern appears to be protecting and extending their monopoly position in the software market, even at the expense of millions of consumers around the world.

-- Jeff Dutky

Brian McWilliams' article missed one salient point. Microsoft has absolutely no incentive to reduce spam. By allowing spam to flourish, Microsoft ensures that the servers that run their software run slowly and can't keep up with the traffic. This forces ISPs and other vendors (including corporations) to buy more servers to handle the load, thus ensuring a greater market for Microsoft's product. Spam is the ultimate marketing tool for Microsoft, and in typical Microsoft fashion, they are making damn sure that a marketing advantage works in their favor.

-- Michael Talman

Technological and legal methods to defeat spam can probably provide only short-term benefits. If there is money to be made, spammers will find a way to overcome any barriers.

The only true solution stems from basic economic supply and demand. If we can get a successful grassroots campaign going to convince everybody never to buy anything at all that is advertised on spam I bet the problem will go away.

-- Nat Beagley

Thank you for your very informative article on why Microsoft does little or nothing about spam. The sorry fact is, someone out there is responding to it, hoping to get cheap Viagra, Rolex watches, or whatever else they're selling.

It's the same problem with certain cable TV networks, which seem to exist for the sole purpose of catering to sponsors who sell bad insurance, bad diet pills, kitchen gadgets that would make Ron Popeil cringe, and bad financial advice. BBC America, for example, used to have some pretty good programming, like "EastEnders" -- only two weeks behind the U.K. Problem is, people who watch "EastEnders" don't buy the crap these sponsors have to sell.

-- Dave Jansing

In your article on Microsoft's efforts (or lack thereof) to prevent e-mail spam, Matthew Prince is quoted as saying, "If nothing else, Microsoft can force spammers to run up big legal bills, thereby wrecking the economics of spamming."

Isn't this called a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) when some big corporate bully overwhelms some smaller less powerful group with legal threats that they cannot afford to defend against? I hate spam as much as anyone, but isn't it better if a court issues an injunction against spamming than if spammers just quit (temporarily) or move their operations because they are afraid of big legal bills? What do free speech advocates say about this? I am not sure there should be free commercial speech, but I am still uncomfortable with the strategy outlined by Matthew Prince.

-- Dawn Owens-Nicholson

Salon Staff

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