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To bounce or not to bounce?

As I mentioned earlier, and as anyone who has met me even tangentially (sorry) over the past 20 months could probably tell you, I bought a Mac almost two years ago, and fast became one off those annoying Mac people who tell everyone they meet to join them in switching away from the Dark Side.

However, I only started using the Mac to handle my e-mail a little while ago. (My PC has all my archived mail for both Tokyo Tales and the Kanji SITE on it, y'see, so I was in no hurry to transfer it all. But anyway.) So I'm now using the Mail software that comes as standard with OS X, and really liking it. It took a while to get used to the advanced settings, and the search function doesn't appear to be as flexible as on Outlook Express, but I think I've got it sorted.

One thing that Mail has that Outlook Express didn't is a "Bounce" option. Let's say you receive a piece of junk mail; Mail allows you to right-click and fake-bounce it back to the sender. So the spammer gets a "This mail could not be delivered" message from your address. Pretty neat, huh? So I bet the spammer will take my address off his list now, right?

Er, no. I was a little skeptical as to whether this would work or not, given the amount of spam that's sent with forged "From:" headers, so did a little research this evening. And it appears that the general consensus is, "don't bother". There are a number of convincing arguments, but here are two biggies:

Firstly, you're probably not bouncing it back to the actual sender; most spam comes from faked addresses. (These are amazingly easy to forge; it's just like writing a fake "Return to sender" address on the back of a real-world envelope. And we've all done that at some point, haven't we? Don't answer that.) So you're actually sending a "Undeliverable mail" message to someone who doesn't deserve to see it / won't understand it / is getting thousands of genuine bounce messages anyway and is already plenty pissed off with having their address hijacked without you rubbing it in any further.

Secondly, even if your fake bounce message did reach the actual spammer who mailed you in the first place, it's highly unlikely that he's going to take the time to prune his list down. The list he's using most likely has a ton of expired addresses on it, and so he gets hundreds or thousands of bounces every time he fires up the old spam cannon* - bounces which he ignores, because a) they might work next time and b) he just doesn't care.

More cogent arguments here and here.

(It does feel awfully good, though.)

Posted by chris at September 28, 2005 10:48 PM | Permalink

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