Lycos Pulls Anti-Spam Screensaver

By | December 6, 2004

Lycos has officially pulled their controversial anti-spam screensaver from their website. Lycos Europe’s website was, until early this morning, distributing an “anti-spam screensaver” as part of its “Make Love Not Spam” campaign.

The software, though, has come under serious fire from security experts and spammers alike – for a variety of reasons. Security experts feel the software – which, once loaded on a PC, will bombard known spammers will millions of requests in an attempt to overwhelm their servers – was simply vigilantism at its worst: no responsibility and no accountability.

Spammers were equally annoyed, saying that much of their “spam” is in fact wanted by users – something that is difficult to prove for obvious reasons. In addition, many spammers were distributing alternate copies which attacked Lycos’ site instead of the sites of known spammers – effectively engaging in reverse vigilantism.

The website, Make Love Not Spam was blocked by many ISP’s who were fearful not only of having their own networks overwhelmed by users but also of legal suits being brought against them by spammers who had been targeted.

Make Love Not Spam is modeled after several popular screensavers that use the idle time on networked machines to carry out serious computing tasks. We´ve all seen the SETI@Home screensaver that scans radio static in search of life on other worlds. An outfit called United Devices has another one that does chemical computations for medical research. It´s a painless way to use a PC´s spare computing power for a worthy cause.

For Lycos Europe, the cause was spam-fighting, and who can question its worth?

Last week, the Internet mail software firm Postini Inc. reported that only 12 percent of the 7 billion messages it processed in November was legitimate mail. The other 88 percent was spam, and its close cousins like phishing attacks and e-mail viruses. Spam costs consumers and businesses $20 billion worldwide, according to Basex Inc., a New York research firm.

Either way, Lycos has done the smart thing in removing the software. Perhaps it was only created to make a point: spam doesn’t pay. The problem is that for the biggest spammers it pays – and pays very, very well.

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