I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.
I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.
Smack down an (Australian) spammer/telemarketer today!
I'm not fond of spam, and I'm even less fond of telemarketers. Aggressively pushing unsolicited advertising is a great way to annoy me. Recently I've become more serious about causing pain to those who'd choose to disturb my peace, and I'd thought I'd share a few ways to make it a little less desirable to be a spammer (including telemarketers).
Spam, both e-mail and telephone, is cheap, which means that it can still be profitable even if the success rate is really low. E-mail is really cheap, which is why we see so much of it. Telephone spam is less cheap, which is why we see less of it. The best way to reduce the amount of spam for everyone is just to make it less profitable. We can do that by not actually buying the products and services offered, but you're probably already doing that. The other way is to make spamming itself more expensive, which is what I'm going to focus on today.
For general e-mail spam, keeping your machines secured is the first step. Most spam is sent by networks of zombie machines; hosts that have been compromised and turned into instruments of evil. This is why you should give a damn about security even if you don't seem to think you have nothing of value on your machine; your resources are much more valuable to an attacker than your collection of cat photographs.
If you're a system administrator, then tar-pitting can make spam just a little bit more expensive, although most implementations will end up costing you some of your own resources as well. A good firewall package like FireHOL can make it easier to establish tarpits at the kernel level using up practically no resources, although this is only really useful on machines that don't accept legitimate mail at all.
If you're an Australian, and someone from inside Australia was silly enough to send you spam, you can report them to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, who have the power to put the spammer in jail. As an interesting aside, ACMA use Request Tracker to track spam complaints.
If you're having a problem with telemarketers, then the first thing is to see if there's a Do Not Call (DNC) registry in your country. Australia finally has one, and while it could certainly be improved, it's better than nothing. If you're on the Australian DNC list and receive a telemarketing call, you can lodge a formal complaint. It will help if you keep the telemarketer on the line to assist you in filling out the details.
If you can't lodge a complaint, or the telemarketer is being unhelpful, or if you just feel like a bit of fun, then it's always possible to tarpit the telemarketer. Your goal is to try and keep the telemarketer on the phone for as long as possible, since that will prevent them from calling others who may (potentially) buy the product. One of the things that makes telemarketing so cheap is that failed attempts to sell are usually very quick; you'll often discover telemarketers who will hang up on you once they realise a sale is not going to be made.
If you do choose to tarpit a telemarketer, then please be sure to do this nicely; the individual who called you in unlikely to be evil, they're just really unlucky to be working as a telemarketer. If anything, you should pity them. Remember, your goal is to make it unprofitable to run a spamming business, not to make the life of a minimum-wage earner more miserable than it already is.
A typical telemarketer tarpit goes like this:
Telemarketer: Hi! I'm Dinna Interrupta from Spam-A-Lot enterprises. Can I speak to you about how you can save money on your mortgage/telephone/electricity/vehicle/tax/robot/death-ray?
You: Sure! That sounds great, I just need to turn off the stove, can you wait a minute?
[A minute passes...]
You: Sorry about that, are you still there?
Telemarketer: Yes! Would you like hear how you can save money and receive a free puppy?
You: Absolutely! That sounds really interesting, but I was just running the bath. Let me turn it off...
[A few more minutes pass...]
You: Are you there?
Telemarketer: Yes! Did you know that by switching both your mortgage and horoscope to Spam-A-Lot you can save up to 300 pieces of silver per month?
You: Wow, that sounds fantastic. Sorry, I'm really interested, but my neighbour just needs a hand jump-starting their car. Just hang on a moment.
[More time passes...]
You: Sorry about that, where were we again?
Telemarketer: I was going to tell you...
You: Sorry about this! There's a giant lizard eating the house next to mine, I've got the bring in the washing before it gets covered in debris. Please stay on the line, I really want to hear about your product...
You'd be amazed how many telemarketers will stick around to wait for the giant lizard to finish, the national guard to arrive, and the media to interview you as an eye-witness.