You're welcome to extend your proposal to handle
bootstrapping communications between people who
haven't before ...
There isn't any way to automate this without opening the door to spammers.
... if the whole intent of the "secret number"
is so I can ignore email without it so I don't
get spam, people can't send me e-mail to ask me
for a secret number so they can e-mail me...
Correct. They'll have to ask you in some out-of-band way. There isn't any
other option. Any means you provide of obtaining your secret number without
your explicit, out-of-band approval will be used by spammers just as readily
as by anyone else. There is no unambiguous, automated way to distinguish
between spammers and any other sender of unsolicited e-mail.
And if I *still* have to check my mail that
doesn't have the number on it, in case I've missed
a request like that, what has this proposal bought me?
Not very much, but for people with a small circle of legitimate
correspondents as compared to the volume of e-mail they receive, it might
In the world of postal mail, the same problem of spam exists, and there is
no solution to it. Political figures, celebrities, and organizations
receive incredible volumes of unsolicited, junk mail; the one and only way
to separate the truly useless mail from legitimate mail is to hire human
beings to sort through it. There isn't any other way. And prosecuting
those who send mail improperly doesn't work, either; it stops one entity
from sending mail, but all the rest continue, so the incoming volume does
If you send a letter to the President of the United States, he may not read
it himself, but the letter will definitely be read by a human being. All
incoming mail is read. The same is true for all incoming e-mail. And the
President is not the only one having this done. Many celebrities have staff
or subcontractors that do nothing but read every piece of incoming mail.
There isn't any other option. And prosecuting someone who sends mail
illegally, or sends threats, or something like that, does nothing to slow
the flow of mail overall.
It may be that spam is an insoluble problem. No automated filter can
protect against it. No after-the-fact prosecution or lawsuits can slow the
flow significantly. No billing scheme can slow the flow of spam without
equally affecting the flow of legitimate e-mail, because there isn't really
any fundamental difference between the two, except in the eye of the