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Should We Spam Proxies to China? 282

Frequent Slashdot Contributor Bennett Haselton is back with a story about fighting censorship with spam. He starts "Is it OK to send unsolicited e-mail to users in China, Iran, and other censored countries, telling them about new proxy sites for getting around Internet censorship? I hasten to add that I have NOT done this, am not planning on doing it and would not have any idea how to go about it anyway. Between the various companies that offer proxy services, I don't know of anyone who is doing it (no, not even people who swore me to secrecy about it). But I think the question involves ethical issues that would not apply to most discussions of spam." Hit that big link below to read the rest of his words.

Lest there be any doubt, I hate spam, getting about 10,000 of them a week with no way to filter them without blocking at least some of my important mail as well; I've tried suing some spammers mostly without success, and humbly proposed one anti-spam algorithm which caught on like wildfire, if the wildfire were spreading through a... rainforest, in the... rain. But I am not against spam a priori (Latin for "unless they are telling me I need to add extra inches"), I'm against spam because that follows from other principles, and in some situations there is some question as to whether those principles still apply. (It is not as simplistic as saying that it is OK to spam "for the greater good". Stay with me!)

Getting back to basics: Why is spam a problem? Because the cost of receiving a message, however minor, is more than the benefits, which are usually microscopic considering the probability that a typical recipient would buy what they're selling. Take a small cost that exceeds a small benefit, multiply by millions of messages per day, and the cost exceeds the benefit by about $70 billion per year.

But, just as a thought experiment, could you conceive of a kind of spam that would not be a nuisance? Suppose you sent an e-mail to millions of people offering them free $20 bills. And you actually followed through and sent the money to anybody who claimed the offer. Then the conventional argument against spam no longer applies, because the e-mails are benefitting people more than they're costing them. It's hard to think of any real-life examples, but if you had sent out mass e-mails telling people about the refund checks for anybody who had bought a CD (it was real, I got my $13.86 in the mail in 2004), I probably wouldn't have come to your house to egg your windows.

"Aha!" some spammer is thinking, "my product does benefit people more than the e-mail costs them! I can help them refinance their homes at a low rate, to take out money they can multiply many times with my new stock tip, and then spend at my friend Tiffanee's new site to help pay her way towards her physics degree!" Wait. Let's just say that you're offering some miracle product at a low price, conferring some huge benefit on each person who buys it. The only costs of spreading your bounty to the world, are whatever advertising costs are incurred in getting the word out. But if your product is really the miracle you say it is, then the benefits to people (even after subtracting the price they paid for it), exceed the costs of the advertising.

Then you have several choices. You can spam to advertise the product. In this case, the costs of the advertising are passed on to unwilling recipients. But if the benefits your product confers are greater than the cost of getting people's attention, then you've still arguably done more good than harm to the world, even if the net effect on some individual people was harmful (on annoyed recipients who didn't end up buying your product). By forcing the advertising costs on other people, you've saved that much more money; you can pocket that benefit yourself, or if you pass on the savings in the form of reduced prices (which you may have to do in a competitive market anyway), you've basically transferred that much benefit by stealing it from the spam recipients and distributing it to your customers. So the main benefit to the world was the wonderfulness of your product, and on top of that, you stole some small benefit from a large number of people and redistributed it to other people, which has no positive or negative net effect.

But, because the benefits of the product outweigh the costs of the advertising, that means in a mostly-free country where your product is legal, you can also buy advertisements to get people's attention, pass the costs on to the customers in the form of slightly higher prices, and have benefits for them left over (otherwise they wouldn't still buy what you're selling). The customers still get the major benefit, the benefit of owning your awesome product. What's missing in this case is the small extra benefit that they were getting before, from you stealing from all the spam recipients and passing the savings on to them.

So for that reason, spammers are prohibited from saying "The benefits of my products exceed the costs of people's attention span to read about it, so it's OK for me to spam", by the reply: "If the benefits really exceed the costs, then you can buy advertising to tell people about it like everyone else."

But now the big question: Would that argument still hold if you wanted to advertise proxies to people in China and Iran?

It doesn't seem that you could use conventional channels to advertise proxies to Chinese and Iranian users. If you bought ads on Google AdSense or a similar ad-serving network, China might threaten to block all ads served from that network unless they started screening out ads for anti-censorship services (especially in the case of Google, which seems to comply with most Chinese self-censorship demands). Then there's the question of how to charge Chinese and Iranian users even small amounts for the services. It would not be a good idea to have the charges show up on their credit cards issued by Chinese banks. Paying small amounts with PayPal would be a little bit better since the charge would simply show up from "PayPal", without revealing the recipient. And since all traffic to the PayPal site is encrypted over SSL, Chinese censors wouldn't be able to detect or block users who were paying to circumvent the Great Firewall, unless they blocked all traffic to the PayPal site. But could PayPal be leaned on to provide the identities of Chinese users who were paying for circumvention services, under threat of having their site blocked otherwise? And the biggest impediment of all would be that once you start charging even $1 for a service, there's a huge dropoff in people willing to sign up, even if they would have to spend much more than $1 worth of effort to find a free alternative somewhere else.

So, if circumvention services provide enough benefit to Chinese users, maybe spamming proxy sites would do more good than harm, and if the lack of freedom in the country means that you could not sell or advertise the services to Chinese users by conventional means, maybe that means spamming the proxy locations would be the only way to do this.

Reading over this, I just realized that if you also believed that pot was beneficial to society, this could also justify spamming to advertise pot. I expect we'll all start getting marijuana spam just as soon as the pothead reading this gets around to it... on, like Tuesday... maybe. Just make sure they don't really get their act together enough to get pot legalized, because if that happens, they lose their rationale for spamming to advertise it! (Thinking about the pot question more seriously, I'd say that if the government banned sales and advertisements of something beneficial like milk, then spamming to advertise milk would be a good thing. The only real argument against spamming for pot is that it isn't as beneficial as milk.)

So that's the mathematical argument in a nutshell:

  1. Spam is bad because the costs to society are greater than the benefits. This would not be the case if you were spamming to advertise something whose benefits were greater than the costs of the spam.
  2. However, in a mostly-free country where your product is legal to sell, #1 should never be used to justify spamming, because if the benefits of your product are really greater than the costs of the advertising, you can pay for the advertising, add the costs on to the cost of the product, and still have benefits left over to split between the seller and the customer.
  3. #2 is not true in non-free countries like China, in which case if a product conferred more benefits than the costs of the spam but was not legal to sell, it might be OK to spam it.

Perhaps this logic is flawed, and I'm sure some people will tell me why they think so. The other question is whether these circumvention services really provide as much benefit to the Chinese and Iranians as those of us who run the services would like to believe. Earlier I argued that the real obstacle to most anti-censorship services is apathy on the part of the target audience, and that it was an unpleasant surprise, when I found some Chinese users on MSN Messenger to ask for help with some technical issue, to find that most of them either supported the Chinese government's censorship or didn't care enough to do anything about it. So for proxy spam to be defensible, it should -- come on, all together now, I can't believe I'm quoting the members of the industry that is the bane of my existence -- include an unsubscribe link that users can click to stop receiving any further e-mails. And a postal return address! Because who could have any cause to complain about an unsolicited e-mail that includes the sender's full mailing address in the footer?

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Should We Spam Proxies to China?

Comments Filter:
  • Responsibility (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Verteiron ( 224042 )
    Hasn't China, in the past, executed people who were convicted of intentionally bypassing the Great Firewall and proving the means to do so to others? Will the people who receive lists of proxy servers be punished for possessing them? If not, could China begin to use such punishment as a deterrent to those sending the lists out?
    • by ILikeRed ( 141848 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:35PM (#20294003) Journal
      Talk about making it easy for Chinese secret police as well - we will train Chinese internet users to trust proxies sent to them in anonymous spam. Their government will NEVER think to make their own proxies and anonymous spam to catch users attempting to break the law and bypass their filters.
      • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @01:48PM (#20294931) Journal

        And there, in a single post, is the best argument that it isn't ethical to do this. Not because the intention or the aims are wrong, but because the effect is likely to be detrimental.

        There's a qualitative difference between the spam you receive and the "spam" that he's talking about sending to China. With our spam, it is trying to direct us to something that we are free to find ourselves if we so want to. With the China "spam" idea, it is trying to provide something that the recipient is not free to find for themselves. In other words, it's increasing the recipients freedom of choice. There's also a difference that what is contained in the "spam" is something that is useful, as opposed to the amount of viagra adverts I receive.

        But if what was sent would just make things worse for the recipient, as the parent says, then it would be wrong to send it.
        • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @02:43PM (#20295531)
          . With the China "spam" idea, it is trying to provide something that the recipient is not free to find for themselves. In other words, it's increasing the recipients freedom of choice. There's also a difference that what is contained in the "spam" is something that is useful, as opposed to the amount of viagra adverts I receive.

          No, it IS almost exactly like Viagra spam. The spammer in both cases claims that it's something the recipient needs, and doesn't know where to find. And in both cases they're wrong. 99% of Chinese on the net don't care about censorship (except perhaps of porn) and the 1% who do are perfectly capable of finding proxies without the help of some American crusader, who is just going to stir up the authorities like an evangelical Christian in Afghanistan.

          If you do happen to want either viagra or a proxy server, the last and least trustworthy way to find it safely is from spam.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by p7 ( 245321 )
        I was thinking along the same lines. This plan gives the government a lot of options. Subvert it as you mention, block it, monitor who uses it, and the list goes on. It would be like advertising a dead drop site and what signals to use, in the newspaper. It is compromised from the start.
      • Talk about making it easy for Chinese secret police as well...

        It also makes it easy for the operators of the firewall:

        Spamming with lists of proxies guarantees that the list ends up in the hands of the authorities. Then they know what IP addresses to block AND to flag when somebody tries to use them.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Hasn't China, in the past, executed people who were convicted of intentionally bypassing the Great Firewall and proving the means to do so to others? Will the people who receive lists of proxy servers be punished for possessing them? If not, could China begin to use such punishment as a deterrent to those sending the lists out?

      Then it would would make great sense to only send such proxy list spam to only members of the Chinese government, especially to all their police.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      Hasn't China, in the past, executed people who were convicted of intentionally bypassing the Great Firewall

      Where did you hear this? On talk radio perhaps? Please cite something authoritative (a news agency, or even a human rights group) to support this allegation.

      China can be pretty oppressive, but this is far beyond anything I've ever heard -- and I live in Hong Kong, which is not censored, but we do hear a lot of what goes on in the mainland.

      Anyway, as to TFA's suggested spam to tell people about

  • The problem isn't that there aren't any technological workarounds to censorship.  The problem is that the governments are allowed to get away with it, and users have to _know_ that they are breaking the law by circumventing it.

    The problem can only be properly resolved by changing the law in those countries which do this.
    • But one way of changing a law is to make it completely unenforceable by a mass civil disobedience campaign aimed at breaking that law, so that the authorities give up on the massive waste of resources needed to enforce it. For that, you'd probably want everyone and his dog to be using these censorship workarounds, rather than just the select elite cognoscenti, so finding some method of advertising the workarounds would be in order.

      To answer the original query, though, I reckon that 'Spammers against censors
      • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:24PM (#20293877) Homepage
        But one way of changing a law is to make it completely unenforceable by a mass civil disobedience campaign

        Never, ever, assume that "not being able to execute huge numbers of people fast enough" is equivalent to "unenforcable".
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          Remember, kids, you don't have to kill everyone who breaks the law. You just have to kill a handful as an example to the rest of them, and the others will fall in line like sheep. Sad, but true.

          Of course, the reverse is also true. You don't have to bomb the capital of every country that violates the basic human rights of its citizens to make a point. You just have to bomb one (pick a small, easy target like Iraq) and then tell China "keep this crap up and you're next". Of course, with China being a n

          • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @02:28PM (#20295341)
            I agree with your point, though not because China has the nuclear bomb in particular. Their strength is their economy. In the long run this is all that matters. With money you can develop or buy arms and other technology, buy limited natural resources (oil), and a louder voice at the UN, etc. Much has been made of specific transfers of sensitive technology to China. But the bigger picture is that all this is inevitable so long as their economic growth is outstripping ours; they will come closer to parity with us in all other respects. And we are so helpful in assisting them with our massive trade deficit, each year bringing our nations closer to economic parity. Maybe it will turn out well and the hypothesis that capitalism breeds democracy will be proven correct; on the other hand, maybe not. It seems like an awfully big gamble to me, so I'm surprised there isn't more concern and debate about it.
      • by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:54PM (#20294219) Journal
        > But one way of changing a law is to make it completely unenforceable by a mass civil disobedience campaign

        You first. I suggest a nice busy and visible public space, like Tianmen Square.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 20, 2007 @01:17PM (#20294525)
          I don't think that would be a good place... my google.cn search of Tiananmen Square says that nothing like this has ever occurred there before.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Well, if its never been done there, then maybe it should! I'd go if I could afford it , really I would.

            On a side note, I think slashdot may just have been made inaccessible in china due to this thread. Or has it always been that way?
      • by Znork ( 31774 )
        "finding some method of advertising the workarounds would be in order."

        Of course, advertising the workarounds may quite likely be the best way to get any such workarounds quickly and throughly shut down.

        If I were a nefarious government out to block such bypasses I'd simply thank those spammers for the blocklists and auto-blacklist every such proxy (except the ones I was setting up myself to observe who were using them in case I needed to make some examples in the future).

        Mass distribution is pointless as a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "The problem is that the governments are allowed to get away with it" Exactly how can the government of Iran or China be prevented from getting away with it? Unless of course you are advocating either that those countries should have a revolution, or that the US should invade them. I'm not going to say that you are wrong if you are advocating revolution in those countries, however, it is important that it be remembered that, unlike in most first world countries, the people of China and Iran (and most other
    • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:21PM (#20293831) Homepage
      I don't suppose anyone would agree with me if I said that we should just let the people in that country deal with their government the way they see fit? There are many places around the world right now that see the inbred offspring of the private sector and government in the US as a de-facto totalitarian state, but if anyone decided to assist in freeing the American people from the yokes of the capitalism cum fascism system, they'd get labeled "terrorist" on short order. Here's a novel idea: Leave other countries and societies alone. It didn't work in Vietnam, it resulted in untold misery and suffering in Chile and its causing the same suffering in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interfering in other peoples' lives, even if you *do* mean well (which governments never do), very rarely works, if ever.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Vancorps ( 746090 )

        So you're saying World War I and II didn't work? You did rarely so we could call them exceptions to the rule. The problem is your statement is that your advocating isolationism and that simply doesn't work as it gives an economy no direction for it to grow. That is why the U.S. is involved in so many countries because our economy depends on growth. If companies with public share holders weren't required to make the most profit then we could probably find something sustainable within our own borders. Until t

        • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @02:26PM (#20295329) Homepage
          In world war two a dangerous power that had invaded numerous neighbouring countries and was armed to to teeth posed a threat to world peace. This is not true of china.
          You may consider the people of North Korea to be ignorant of what is wrong with their govt and the better system that you have in the US, but there are people in scandinavian countries with high systems of state welfare who would consider the USA to be barbaric in some ways, and assume that its brainwashed citizens just aren't aware of how much better a socialist government can be.
          Looking at other countries, and saying they need to all be like you, rarely works out well. Empires do not last, regardless how many guns you have, and attempting to interfere with the way other countries are run tends to breed resentment.
          People in Texas went ballistic at a UK letter writing campaign prior to the last US election, where UK liberals asked them not to vote for Bush. I can only imagine how Americans would react to spam for Venezuella telling you whats wrong with your government.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Vancorps ( 746090 )

            I didn't mean to suggest we should intervene in China, when I said we should pick our battles more intelligently I was implying that we should stay out of frivolous pursuits such as that. I did not say it outright. I was also similarly not implying that we should do anything with North Korea, only an example of a populous that has no hope of rising against their government to change anything. Their culture seems to accept their reality so let them be. Afghanistan, Somalia, and Kosovo were examples I provide

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by quanticle ( 843097 )
          So you're saying World War I and II didn't work?

          World War I didn't work. The victorious Allies, in an attempt to teach Germany and Austria a lesson, imposed penalties so harsh that both economies were crippled for the entire interbellum period, greasing the rails for a demagogue to take power. The Allies also did a horrible job in splitting up the Balkans, the Middle East, and numerous other portions of the world that had been previously ruled by Germany/Austria. Heck, if it hadn't been for the Treaty of
          • by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @04:25PM (#20296747)

            Japan attacked America because we cut off their oil. If we had been isolationists we wouldn't have been dealing with them in the first place let alone cutting off a vital supply we knew they needed. We had plenty of oil, we cut off their supply to slow their growth and to allow us to continue our western expansion. Isolationists we were when it came to matters in Europe but certainly not on the Pacific side.

            As for protecting our trade routes, we were giving guns and ammo along with medical supplies to the British during that time and that is why the Germans attacked our ships. For quite a while our trade routes were uninterrupted until we started aiding our allies.

            World War I did work, it ceased the violence and as you stated, the reason why it fell apart was because the two countries couldn't survive under the imposed conditions. The reasoning for entering the war was sound. The aftermath was not handled properly. Sounds an awful lot like what's happening in Afghanistan right now. We went there for all the right reasons but then allowed ourselves to get sidetracked into Iraq which did not have sound reasoning. Congress really dropped the ball on that one, amazingly so.

            World War II was more straight forward but no one was bringing the war to American soil. It wasn't until after we started involving ourselves in the politics of the world that they turned hostile towards us. Fortunately it looks like the lessons of WWI were learned and applied to WWII as opposed to the lessons of Vietnam being applied to the Golf. Sad when people don't learn and even worse when people that should know better don't say anything to stop it.

  • Look spam is spam. I'm sure when the christian folks spam me about the lord or whatever nonsense, they really feel they are doing the right thing. I still don't want it though.

    The people over there who know about the proxies don't want to see your spam. If anything this would do nothing more than make the situation worse and you'd probably see a tighting down of their firewall system.
  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:07PM (#20293625) Journal
    the problem is that it isn't below China and Iran to just block EVERYTHING that remotely resembles a method around the great firewalls they set up. the power to filter what people see overrides any consideration for getting legit emails/ads to the user. and unlike in many countries in the western world the government has no problem delving into technology to fix this little problem.
    • I think you're right, I mean, perhaps they ban any and everything (only chinese ranges/subnets allowed, etc) they don't already know about, then proxies are good for jack shit... I mean you can make rules for ipaddress ranges and subnets, or even coming from/to specific hosts, so it's simple enough for them just to
      A) stop your spam from coming in.
      2) Filter out attempts to connect to proxies
      D) Kill the people trying to do it in the name of the Republic.
      My tongue-in-cheekness aside I think the OP is quit
  • No for two reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:07PM (#20293627)
    1) It is still unsolicited e-mail. You may think that there's something I really, really want. You may believe to the core of your being it is something I care about. You may still be wrong. There may well be people in those restricted countries that just don't give a shit. Perhaps all of the web they care about is allowed through the filters. Thus they really don't want to hear from you.

    2) More importantly e-mail is not secure. The government will find out, they will monitor the spam, and they will use that to either block your proxies or arrest those that use them or whatever. Sending an unsecured plain text message advertising something illegal in a country known to monitor the Internet is, well, stupid.
    • by metlin ( 258108 )
      Or worse yet, they may monitor those who receive the spam and pick them out for "preferential treatment" - and the next time one of them uses the proxy, their family maybe sent a bullet and a bill.

      Are you ready to take the responsibility for that?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ajehals ( 947354 )
      You could add to your second point that the government, if it wished, could produce these emails and claim that they indicate intent to do something illegal and therefore arrest anyone who received one, whether they acted upon it or not.

      I doubt that totalitarian regimes require help in fabricating or identify evidence of arrestable offences, but there is no reason to make it easier for them.
    • It is still unsolicited e-mail. You may think that there's something I really, really want.

      Do you believe that in general (going beyond email here) it is wrong to solicit a non-free good or service to someone who has not explicitly invited that kind of offer?

      And is there any clear way to ask that question with only one negative?
    • 1) It is still unsolicited e-mail. You may think that there's something I really, really want. You may believe to the core of your being it is something I care about. You may still be wrong. There may well be people in those restricted countries that just don't give a shit. Perhaps all of the web they care about is allowed through the filters. Thus they really don't want to hear from you.

      Or maybe, just maybe, Chinese citizens will discover that there are countries where freedom of expression without fear of

    • 1) It is still unsolicited e-mail. You may think that there's something I really, really want. You may believe to the core of your being it is something I care about. You may still be wrong. There may well be people in those restricted countries that just don't give a shit. Perhaps all of the web they care about is allowed through the filters. Thus they really don't want to hear from you.

      Well then, the whole idea of subverting (covertly, overtly, or even militarily) a nasty government (even when its nasty

      • Has anyone ever done a study, I wonder, on whether or not Radio America broadcasts were the reason for Cuban refugees to leave Cuba? I'm going to posit a guess that the answer is no; they left Cuba because a) they were tired of being poor, b) they were tired of being oppressed, or c) they had family already in the US.

        I think the point is that whether or not this is a good idea may be subject to debate (though I still think it's a bad idea), but the underlying premise, that enough people will get the infor

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mi ( 197448 )

          The Chinese people will have to begin any kind of revolution from within, just as the American colonies did.

          That's a wrong view. Excusable, but wrong. American colonies faced a fairly benign oppressors (the King and the Parliament), who would shy away from mass-murder — the list of greivances [ushistory.org], while exposing the rule as ineffectual, mentions little bodily harm.

          Cuban and North Korean governments, on contrast, are determined to apply whatever violence may be necessary to stay in power, which makes t

    • by malsdavis ( 542216 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:57PM (#20294269)
      3) Do people in those countries actually desire uncensored internet?

      Although I personally hate the idea of censorship, the one thing I hate even more (or maybe equaly, but the two are closely related anyway) is others pushing their ethics and morales on me (e.g. Religious spam which is some of the most irritating around).

      In the case of Iran in particular, there is no doubt that the current government was democratically elected by a large majority, despite the clear implication that the internet would be censored. Is there evidence that the average lay person (i.e. spam recipients) in these countries desire uncensored internet access?

      If we start spamming them saying how they should all use methods to bypass censorship because we consider censorship immoral than we have to expect and support Iranians sending us spam saying how we should use censorship proxies (along with a plethora of "change your immoral, infidel culture" crap).
  • Short answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:10PM (#20293649)
    Is it OK to send unsolicited e-mail to users [...]

    • Longer answer (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:15PM (#20293755)
      It is not okay to send things to people just because you think they need it. That includes instructions on how to avoid internet censorship, penis enlargement devices and democracy to middle-eastern countries.

      Let's take an example: what if some chinese dude gets your email, and the chinese police raids his house because he's now on a dangerous dissidents list for having been in communication with, and detaining computer data from dangerous anti-censorship groups? Still think your kind email would be welcome?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mrogers ( 85392 )

        It is not okay to send things to people just because you think they need it.

        You just described all email. When I send someone a job application, or a photo of a cat with its head stuck in a jar, or a love letter, it's because I think the recipient wants to read it (of course I want them to read it too, but I wouldn't send it unless I thought they'd be interested). Email is inherently push-based, so it's always based on an assumption about what the other person might want to receive.

  • no (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jmyers ( 208878 )
    People who want to find information on the internet will find it. The "spam" will just be a great way for the censors to find and block the proxies.

    • Precisely what I was going to post. The problem with SPAMMING the list of proxies is you've made the list ubiquitous and easy to come by. It only takes *one* government official to see the list and forward to the right place before all those proxies cease to function for the everyone they were meant to help, the users in China!


  • Consent, not Content (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:10PM (#20293659) Homepage Journal
    If they didn't ask for it, and you still blast it out to a bunch of people, it's still unsolicited bulk email -- in other words, it's still spam.

    Besides, think of the unintended consequences: You'd be making users used to accessing random proxies. How long before the malware writers start spamming "Hey, use our proxy!" and advertising their fake proxy which will send most traffic through, but will sniff usernames and passwords, and redirect certain sessions to phishing sites?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hachiman ( 68983 )
      Go one step further... You, the governtment of a country that employs censorship, set up your own proxy and start spamming people in your own country about it. They log on to use it and, hey presto! You have their name, IP etc and can subtly keep an eye on what they are getting up to. After that, it's child's play to send out the heavy mob with the mini-van to go and collect the subversives.

      Mind you, that's just being plain cynical. Surely no govertment would ever dream of doing something so sneaky or as b
  • Absolutely not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln ( 21727 ) * on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:11PM (#20293665)
    What you are essentially asking is if it's okay to share information you think would be valuable to oppressed people by spamming them. Your thought is to share proxy site information with them. That's all very noble, but you are talking about is essentially using spam as a tool to give people you don't know information you personally believe they will find valuable.

    So, who is to say this information is the most valuable thing they could receive? What if I believe what these people really need to change their lives is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Would if be okay in your view for me to spam them with religious messages? Why not? What if I think they would really benefit by hearing the word of Allah?

    You argue that the big problem with spam is that the benefit is small and the cost is large to the recipient. But, you say, this information is enormously beneficial to the recipient, so it's worth the cost they pay. The problem is, you as the sender are not the one who gets to make that call. The value of the email is determined by the recipient, not by the sender. As a sender, I may think that my discount C1al1s is enormously beneficial and far outweighs the miniscule cost of receiving an email, but I doubt the recipients of my message feel the same way.

    There's also the problem of just how oppressive these governments are. Will recipients of these messages be subject to punishment by their governments just for having it in their inbox? Will the governments use the emails as an excuse to crack down on proxies and block even larger swaths of the Internet, thereby defeating the purpose? There's no way you could blanket spam a country without its government noticing and taking measures to defeat your efforts.

    Your heart may be in the right place, but this method just isn't a good idea.
  • by biocute ( 936687 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:13PM (#20293709) Homepage
    would not have any idea how to go about it anyway

    If India is too expensive, consider hiring Chinese to do this spam.
  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Leto-II ( 1509 ) <slashdot.4.tobye@NOsPAm.spamgourmet.com> on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:14PM (#20293719)
    The people who really want to know already know.

    The people who don't will just be annoyed by your spam.

    And, by the way, the people who don't really care to know vastly outnumber those that do.
  • It's most probable that the authorities will end up receiving the spam - after tweaking their filters a bit, they'll update the Great Firewall to block the advertised proxies.
  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:14PM (#20293731)
    So let me get this straight ..

    You want to advertise a service (proxy server) to a bunch of people in a foreign country.
    But you don't want the authorities of that country to know because if they did they would just shut you down.
    So you intend (in thought only at this stage) to spam everyone in the country telling them where the proxy is.

    So where in your magical spamming service is the option that allows you to spam to the opressed people without sending the same spam to the authorities?
  • If so, then by all means go ahead. If not, then 2 wrongs don't make a right. ( or is that 2 lefts make you go backwards? )
  • um, yes! (Score:2, Funny)

    "Is it OK to send unsolicited e-mail to users in China, Iran, and other censored countries, telling them about new proxy sites for getting around Internet censorship?"

    I think any lengthy agonizing over this question reveals the agonizer's ignorance of life under totalitarian rule. Anything which destroys the government stranglehold on information is good. Its actually one of the only legitimate uses of spam I can think of.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dave420 ( 699308 )
      And when the authorities get a hold of this spam, block the proxies, and then punish those trying to use them? How does that fit into your idea of reality? Most folks in China don't give a rat's ass their internet access is blocked - they've got more important things on their minds than being able to surf the net without limits.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:17PM (#20293775)

    This would not be the case if you were spamming to advertise something whose benefits were greater than the costs of the spam.
    Who defines what the benefit is? As far as I'm concerned that'd be me, not you. I choose what I value, not you.

    Spamming about giving away money would simply increase inflation if followed through. Giving everyone a million dollars simply makes a million dollars worthless.

  • is a cat and mouse game. and it has to remain that way. subtlety is sometimes the better tactic to fight an enemy. and in the case of a powerful central authority, subtety is necessary

    in other words, to be effective, undermining authoritarianism has to be on the downlow, subtle. you have to understand the nature of the enemy here. the problem with a big bully sitting in the cat seat who is ready to do evil things in order to further his grip on power is that if you want to undermine him you can't do it loud
  • your wife tells me your having problems in bed ... how about some c14li5?

    No, spammers think you want what they are selling, what makes you think the Chinese want what you are peddling?
  • "Would that argument still hold if you wanted to advertise proxies to people in China and Iran?"

    There is this one small problem that might be a factor, pretty much right from the start. The 'net police in China can read, just like your target population.

    You might as well translate it into Chinese and gift wrap the info, for all the good this scheme would do.

    Also, the Chinese using the internet are doing pretty well against the authorities - I'd not lose any sleep over them being able to pull their
  • First of all, my issue with spam is not that the "costs to society are greater than the benefits". My issue is that it is being sent to me without any consent in my part. The only reason I get half of it is because someone's spamming script realized that exe121@ and exe123@ returned the mail as 'undelivered', but mine worked just fine. Sure I can open the email with it's viral attachments and click the "Unsubscribe" link at the bottom, but I never wanted it in the first place.

    As far as the issue of sp
  • Trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:27PM (#20293909) Homepage
    They don't know you, and by default cannot trust you. What prevents the government from doing the same to entrap users (even allowing them to proxy, so they can watch their activity). Bad idea, you have to establish networks of trust first. Someone would only use your server if they got the address from someone they know personally. Well, someone who isn't a complete idiot.
  • Totally unneccesary (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Though it might sound surprising, the majority of Chinese internet users don't feel "oppressed" by the Great Firewall - just inconvenienced and maybe annoyed some times.

    Anyone in China who feels he has a need to use proxy servers to access blocked sites knows where to find a good proxy list. Those lists aren't no secrets - they're not even forbidden.
  • by sshore ( 50665 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:29PM (#20293939)
    The question can be easily turned around - is it okay to send unsolicited emails to the US, UK, and other similar countries, encouraging users to engage in subversive acts for which they could be fined or imprisoned, because you disagree with a policy of their government? What would you think of a foreigner or foreign agent who did that? What impact might it have? Think of all the people who say "I block all email from China because I receive spam from there." A closely related question is whether politically- or idealogically-motivated spam is okay, if one assumes that commercially-motivated spam is not. My feeling is that unsolicited bulk email is never okay - it raises the noise floor in an already noisy medium.
  • Flawed reasoning (Score:4, Informative)

    by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <wgrother@oEINSTE ... minus physicist> on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:30PM (#20293963) Journal

    As you might note, most of the comments are negative to the idea, for the simple reason that it's dumb. You stand to become the Jehova's Witnesses of the Internet. But it's not the method, or even the fact that it seems like a reasonable idea that makes it truly flawed. The flaw is in the audience you are trying to target. The people of China have been living with this form of government for quite a while now and despite dissension by a vocal but oppressed minority, there are no signs of change in the way that country works. We are talking a total population of 1.3 billion people, of which a tiny fraction actually have Internet access or even a reasonable idea what the Internet is. In many cases, you'd be preaching to the choir, the techno-savvy Chinese who understand the intricacies of the Net and who yearn for the freedom to use it as anyone else does. But if you're planning to fient some kind of revolution and bring freedom to the Chinese, then you are wasting your time and marking yourself for reprisal.

    Revolution, any revolution, must come from within. Enough people must want change to make it reasonable. Chinese society is not built that way, not will it change any time soon.

  • What you suggest is enforcing your own cultural vision and values though massive and anoying spam. This is violent and inappropriate.

    Having stong enough self awareness and values on what's good, or right or meaningfull regarding our own cultural reference may make you stronger.

    Perpetual vigilence is requiered to defend and preserve our liberties.

    I don't think this has to be faught outside... Unless you intend to bring in your onw interests in the load. History, past and current is full of this. One group, government, find self good reasons to fight against another group or state because it believe it has self rights, power and interests in doing so.

    But, as usual, real society improvments, progress comres from the inside. If chinese think having limited access to the net, and beying jailed by their government is bad enough, they will fight it from the inside. I believe they will do it more appropriately and in conformance to their cultural values and references. Not yours or mine nor anyboty from the outside.

    What would you think about the chinese, the russians or the europeans, or the africans... jamming your local network policies, endlessly critisizing your government, down valuing your own abilities to defend yourself or define yourself whats right, whats good...?

    This is some cultural violence for the least.

    Truly, I hope chinese will find themselves the way they'd like to go. I wouldn't want my own government going theyr ways and would be happy for them if it could or would work there more as it is in my own country. But, I know very little about chineses, and there are probably many reasons I ignore about what makes their government work the way it does. I guess sincerely they are the most aware and able to instituates changes if they feel they need to.
  • The problem is tying your legitimacy to the rest of the spam. There are two possible consequences:

    1) People see your message as a scam or a trap, like the rest of the crap they receive, or

    2) People see your message as legit, and it raises the reputation of spam to the point where more people will be taken in by scams.

  • by Dusty00 ( 1106595 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @12:43PM (#20294095)
    I can't fathom why Americans haven't gotten over the idea they everyone else always needs our help. Here in America, neither FOX nor CNN provide news, they provide whatever version of the story will generate the best ratings. There are millions of Americans out there who don't realize that other news sources will provide a more accurate picture of what's going on, like Reuters or AP. So why should these news sources not spam the world and show us the light, because we don't want it. Those of us who want their product will go and find it, those who don't will not. Same with what this article is proposing. Those who want information the government is censoring will find a way to get it, those who don't will not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RyoShin ( 610051 )

      I can't fathom why Americans haven't gotten over the idea they everyone else always needs our help.

      Because lots of countries lambast us when we don't give the help to places they think need help. The police often escort the ambulance- in the global infrastructure, it is hard to seperate the two.

      I'm not saying I agree with this plan, or I don't think we should send assistance to, say, Darfur, but the majority of Americans might stop seeing themselves as saviors of the world if other countries stop calling on

  • No
  • Just hire a Chinese spam gang to spam the mail server at!
  • So... spam should only be ok for advertising illegal activities? Yeah.. that makes sense.

    We don't have a right to break other countries laws because we have moral objection to those laws.
  • Needs more pictures of cats and bunnies.
  • No. (Score:2, Insightful)

    Bringing any unnecessary attention to a "bad" thing can lead to many bad things happening to said thing, especially in a place like China. Let the people earn their information. Plenty of people that want to get around the firewall, do, from the Chinese i've spoken to.
  • I don't have an ethical problem with spamming, as you describe, to advertise a proxy service as long as it's free. In that case I think the benefit to the world clearly outweighs the cost.

    Whether such a frontal assault on the censors in those countries is likely to work, as someone else posted, is another question entirely. I'm not sure it will. But I don't have a problem with the attempt, should you choose to make it.

  • It'd be a shame if the proxy-advertising spam simply told the censors which sites to add to their national filter's blacklist... which seems like the most obvious result.

    Besides, who among the intended proxy users would trust a proxy advertised via spam? Personally, I'd assume a proxy address I'd been spammed with is a sting-proxy set up by the censors as a way of identifying censorship evaders.
  • I'm not really hip to the Chinese internet experience, but I'd imagine they get about as much spam as the rest of us, piles and piles. There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions here from those of us frustrated with spam to the point of zero-tolerance, but think about it this way. It isn't as though spam will be going anywhere anytime soon. It's not like there is some great new solution out there and the practice of spam is on its way out. It is something that will probably be with us indefinitely. May even get
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @01:17PM (#20294539) Journal
    to find that most of them either supported the Chinese government's censorship or didn't care enough to do anything about it.

    You've omitted two distinct (and IMO likely) options...

    First, people living in a country with oppressive governments may not feel particularly inclined to discussing illegal activity with complete strangers. If a random Iraqi sent me an IM discussing ways to circumvent US border security, as much as I may consider our activities in their country a farce, I would guard my wording very carefully.

    And second, your average Chinese person really might not care! In 2003 in the US, something like 3/4ths of the population supported a war on a country having nothing to do with 9/11, as retaliation for 9/11. Never forget that most people have no clue about their own government's atrocities, even against its own population. Ask most Americans about Waco or Ruby Ridge, and you'll get responses about whackjobs holed up over religion or taxes, without even the first thought about whether the (originally minor, in both cases) offenses in question justified the commission of government-sanction massacres.

    Addressing the actual topic at hand, though - No, you can't spam people "for their own good". Anyone wanting to find such info on their own will eventually do so. Anyone else, you'll just piss off.
  • by eaolson ( 153849 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @01:25PM (#20294623)

    Just think of this from a slightly different angle:

    Is it OK to send unsolicited e-mail to users telling them about the Lord Jesus Christ and their possibility for salvation if they accept Him as their Savior? ... But I think the question involves ethical issues that would not apply to most discussions of spam.

    Just because you think your message is valuable to the recipient doesn't mean the recipient thinks so. It doesn't matter if your message is about getting around censorship or about a valuable low-rate mortgage.

    Unsolicited bulk email is spam. Period.

  • by mckyj57 ( 116386 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @01:27PM (#20294643)
    This whole analysis is flawed because spamming by definition is done without permission. Since you don't seek permission, anyone can decide their spam offers a net benefit, even if it does not. Since the cases where it is beneficial are so few -- I point to the VA Research Open Source stock offer as one that was, even though it wasn't really spam -- the net result is a cost and not a benefit.
  • At least to me, the whole argument about why the CD-refund spammers should be allowed to spam, while the Viagra spammers should not, seems very twisted to me. Specifically, the part of the argument that a spammer has more expensive advertising routes available, and therefore should take the more expensive route -- presumably because it is less expensive to spammees.

    Doesn't make sense to me. Hey, let's whip out a bad car analogy!

    A Toyota Prius gets, say, 50 mpg, and costs US$25k. A Toyota Yaris (mine!) g

  • I will accept one spam from your sorry ass if I get to cut out your heart right after.
    We can do it in a country where it's legal. Maybe China.

  • by janrinok ( 846318 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @01:37PM (#20294783)

    You are assuming that no-one in China has already solved this problem. Perhaps they have, but they are hardly likely to start shouting about how clever they are, are they? They have some very good programmers. I suspect that they are way ahead of needing your well-intentioned but misguided support.

  • Yea, I say, we got it the best way over here, and we gotta feed freedom down the worlds throat I think.

    Not just spam proxies, we must, and it's our sacred mission, to shoot, bomb and nuke proxies their way. They must be really happy we think about their good for 'em, so they don't have to.
  • Why don't we just stop US based companies from doing the censorship? Google and Yahoo are the corporations getting people sent to the Laogai. [wikipedia.org] Cisco and others make the Great Firewall of China possible. It's American companies putting together Chinese police surveillance and control. [nytimes.com] Anything for a buck I guess.
  • NO.

    1) Spam is spam.

    2) You are well-meaning, but very ignorant about how China works at a basic level. "These poor people living behind a firewall unable to join the modern world. If only we could, you know, help them somehow..."

    China has lived with 5000 years of government which ranges from benignly incompetent to just plain awful. As offensive as it is to Western sensibilities, Hu Jintao and the current crop of losers are above average by historical standards. As a result, being born Chinese means lear
  • Is sending out this sort of thing spam? yes. Is distributing airborne leaflet propaganda [wikipedia.org] littering? Yes.

    On a practical note, although it probably would have helped bring down communism for Levi Strauss to leaflet bomb East Germany with ads for their jeans and a note that it'd be easier to buy them after getting rid of communism, I don't think it was done. The first reason is that there probably wasn't a good ROI for Levi to do it. The second reason is that it isn't really the place of private enterpris
  • by Flambergius ( 55153 ) on Monday August 20, 2007 @02:24PM (#20295293)
    1) Is spamming wrong a priori?

    My first instinct is: no, spamming is not wrong in itself, but only due to its secondary effects. Sending an unsolicited email is not destructive or hurtful to any one person, receiving one is only annoying. In most case one should avoid annoying very many people at once, but I fail to see how that would be wrong in a priori moral sense. In practice, spamming has a cost on societal level that must be considered prohibitive in any but the most extreme circumstances.

    My second instinct is that it is possible that spamming crosses the line in regards to the receivers right to self-determination. In that case it would be wrong a priori ... however, that feels rather weak. If one was to demand such a high level of self-determination then how would one function in society.

    2) Should we spam anti-censorship information to China?

    Probably not, for various practical reasons, most of which have been raised here already.

    Even when a otherwise workable plan is conceived one should be very cautious about actually acting. Governments are very touchy when their sovereignty (including their ability to oppress their own people) is challenged. A spam campaign spreading truthful and censored information into China may have unintended consequences far beyond simple cost calculations. I for one don't want to see Internet militarized - although that may well be a hopeless wish.

    In closing, I must note my disappointment at the level of discussion. I have seldom seen people getting moderated so highly with so little understanding of what the fundamentals of the discussion are. Ethics are damn hard, fair enough, but not having a clue what a priori and a posteriori mean is just intellectual laziness. It's also no excuse that the issue is your pet peeve, if ever that's when your worth as an intelligent and ethic person is measured.

  • No.

    Unsolicited mass-email is never ok. I'm sure some of the early spammers also thought that people were genuinely interested in their crap.

    Your "revelation" might be of interest to some chinese. But I'd be surprised if there weren't a lot of them who really couldn't care less. For example, those who speak no or not enough english to even care about the web outside of China.

news: gotcha