Adventures in Spam: Volume I

A few years ago, Enrico Zini and I were talking about spam and he introduced me to an idea that I thought made a lot of sense. Basically, he said that the only real solution to spam is education: Until we educate people to not buy the things advertised in unsolicited email, spam will persist because there will be an economic incentive for it to do so.

There are other ways to stop spam being sent but these alternatives seem to boil down to making the spammers’ medium either prohibitively expensive or regulated — neither of which are solutions I’m comfortable with with a number of reasons.

Enrico’s idea broke down for me today when I received religious "spam." It was a email from someone trying to convert me to Christianity.

As one of my friends put it, it’s surprising that unsolicited religious mail is not more common and I don’t doubt that it will become more so in the future. The problem with the education model for combating spam and these religious mass-marketing campaigns is that there is no reaction that we can educate people not to have that will eliminate the messages. There is no link to click and no phone number to call in the email. Religious spammers have a message and the chance that you might get it and become saved eternally — no matter how improbable — is enough to justify their effort.

At this point, religious spammers are using the tools of the commercially-motivated spam industry so they are connected. However, I can’t help but see this is a profoundly more problematic type of spam creation.

2 Replies to “Adventures in Spam: Volume I”

  1. I have been getting a lot more zealous spam of late, which now resides in my trash automatically. You may think that the government could do something about this, but they have been guilty of sending out spam mail for their own electorial purposes. In fact, at a recent referendum, they bulk emailed consitiuents, and also bombarded them with pre-recorded telephone calls asking them to vote their way. This system borked, and all of the outbound phonecalls sat in a queue – until finally the calls were all made in the early hours of the morning. “Hi, John Prescot here, I’m just calling you….” <click>

  2. Let’s start from the idea that spam works.  I recently heard that a substantial percentage of the american internet users bought something from spam. Which is weird, because it’d take a fool to buy something from an advertiser of dubious morality, and expect a good service in change.

    A fool.

    It’d take a fool to vote for Hitler, for Mussolini, for Bush, for Berlusconi.  It would obviously take a fool: none of these people hid or hides the fact that they are outright bad, self-contradictory except that their intention is to fuck you.

    It takes a fool.
    Everyone knows they are going to fuck you.

    If you’re a good software designer, you know the concept of patters.  Here we have one: someone actively looking for something bad, hoping to get pleasure.  An extremely important pattern: the Masochist.  Why extremely important?  Look at the American voters: 50% voted for Bush, so the pattern roughly applies to 50% of the american voters.  And I can imagine it applies also to some of those who voted Democrat.  So this pattern should be found quite frequently in the USA everyday life.  Learn to recognize it in people: it’s interesting.  Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s subtle, but with a bit of practice you get good in spotting it.

    Do you see how many there are?  Can you see that pattern in you sometimes?

    That’s the start of a new awareness.

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