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email onslaughtSpam, Goddam!
by Marjorie Dorfman

What is this annoying thing called spam, where does it come from and how does it know where I live? Why do I get so much of it while asking for none? Why can’t this happen to me with money? These and other searing questions will be addressed in the following article.

Remember, you only need to steal a penny from four million people in order to have enough money to buy yourself a brand new Mercedes-Benz!    – CAUCE (Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail)

Did you ever wonder how a respectable meat product manufactured by Hormel acquired such an irritating double meaning as Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, (better known as junk e-mail)? Well, wonder no more, but continue to be annoyed.

Like postal junk mail and that lovely telemarketer call in the middle of a meal or important discussion, spam is about as welcome as a nest of invading ants at a picnic. If P.T. Barnum weren’t pushing up daisies for more than one hundred years now, I would have sworn that he was behind this modern, pesky phenomenon. According to a report prepared by Forester Research, online users in North America claim that more than one-third of their e-mail is junk mail, with the average consumer getting bombarded with one hundred and ten unwanted messages every week. Even Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, has filed fifteen lawsuits in the United States and in The United Kingdom against spammers who have sent them mail touting everything from "get rich quick" schemes to pornographic web sites.

spam is servedThere are a few theories as to how this whole thing started. First consider The Acronym Hypothesis. In this case, the initials are all that matters; Self-Propelled Advertising Material. If you don’t like that one, or find it too simple to be true, there’s the Food Theory to consider. This is more subjective and even more obscure. Few people ever want, ask for or appreciate the spiced ham product known as spam; hence unwanted junk e-mail. Then there’s the most popular version of the story: The Monty Python Flying Circus Theory. This refers to a skit in the early 1990s, which follows a British couple struggling to order from a menu consisting entirely of Hormel’s canned ham. Repetition is the key to the skit’s hilarity. The actors cram the word spam into the two and one-half-minute skit more than one hundred and four times! This flood prompted UseNet readers to call unwanted newsgroup postings "spam." The name stuck.

Regardless of its origins, unsolicited bulk e-mail is a waste of resources and a pain in a place my mother taught me never to mention. Consider the consequences if a telemarketer could call collect without giving the callee a chance to decline the charges! Imagine too that the Postal Service started allowing companies to send junk e-mail for free or worse, with postage due instead of charging the senders. Who do you think would end up paying for all that garbage that’s destined for your trashcan anyway? (Take a guess. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not them.)

According to Beka Ruse, Business Development Manager at Weber Productions, bad spam happens to good people for a number of reasons. Businesses often keep lists of their customer’s e-mail addresses. Sometimes these lists are sold to outside advertisers, which results in a surge of unsolicited e-mail as well as a serious breach of trust. Computer programs called random address generators guess e-mail addresses. Over one hundred million hotmail addresses exist and a good guess, like a picture, can be worth a thousand or more…well…bucks!

Spammers may also guess at standard addresses like support@domainname or info@domain name. These war mailer programs dispatch an e-mail message to every single variation on their auto-generated list. Most modern Internet mailservers will reject any attempt to send a message to a non-existent recipient address. Spammers use such rejection responses to their advantage by culling their initial mailing lists down to a more manageable size of probably valid e-mail recipients. Web spiders comprise today’s most insidious list-gathering tools. All of the major search engines spider the web and save information about each page. Spammers use tools that do the same and save any e-mail addresses they come across. If your personal web page lists your e-mail address, prepare for an onslaught of spam!

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"Technology has enabled man to gain control over everything except technology."

"Never trust a computer that you can't throw out the window."
Steve Wozniak

Don't miss this excellent book:

Marketing With E-Mail: An Anti-Spam Guide

by Shannon Kinnard

Marketing With E-Mail: An Anti-Spam Guide

This updated Third Edition includes the latest information on e-mail newsletters, online networking and e-mail promotions. Readers are guided through a step by step process of creating and implementing an e-mail marketing plan for their specific needs.

Click to printClick for a printer friendly version of this article.