Spam works

I got a spam today advertising spamming services that ended with a tagline that can be paraphrased: We managed to spam you, let us spam others on your behalf!
OK, so what they actually said was:

We have proven that we can get our message through to you….Let us help get your message in front of your ideal audience.

The thing is, I’m not an ideal audience for his message. Really. Sending me spam to an address I’ve never actually used as an email address advertising your magic filter busting technique isn’t going to inspire me to use your service.
Plus, this guy is violating CAN SPAM all over the place.

  • Headers are forged.
  • There’s no physical postal address.
  • There’s no unsub link.
  • It’s coming from NoReply@.

There is a part of me that understands people respond to this kind of thing. Some desperate small business owner is going to get this email, think it’s actually targeted at him and call the number. He’s not necessarily going to realize this “targeted” email is totally un-targeted.
This small business person is also going to rely on the spammer for guidance on how to do things. And if the spammer does for the small business person what he did for himself, the small business person is going to be violating federal law. Of course, business people should understand what they’re doing and they shouldn’t buy from spam. But that seems to be expecting to much of people.

No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. H.L. Mencken. “Notes On Journalism” 9/19/1926

In fact, if no one ever bought from spam, then there wouldn’t be quite the spam problem there is today. Ten or so years ago I would confidently assert people didn’t buy from spam. Then the state of Arizona nailed C.P. Direct for selling fraudulent penis enlargement pills and confiscated between $30 and $60 million dollars worth of cash and property. That was the point where I realized people really were stupid or desperate enough to buy from spam.
This is why so many companies turned to filters as a solution. They realized that stopping people from buying from spam was a total non-starter. Spam works, no matter how many of us wish it didn’t. ISPs can only stop it from being delivered, not stop it from being sent.


  1. Kieran says

    As you suggest Laura, the thing that keeps the tide of spam flowing is the number of gullible people who respond. Rather than using filters – ultimately a lost game as you say – how can we persuade people not to do stupid things? Do we need a mass education campaign? A high-profile film about where the money from spam goes? Or is it really a lost cause given the absolute truth of the Mencken quote?

  2. Laura says

    Actually, Kieran, I think it’s user education that’s the lost cause.

  3. Huey says

    I think it was John Levine that convinced me that “educate all the users” is a member of the “first, boil the ocean” class of solutions. Sure, it would work, but it’s going to take more resources than we currently have available.
    The NBA is currently running public service announcements to tell people that it isn’t cool to use the word ‘gay’ as an insult. Now, I dunno Laura’s Alexa rating, but I suspect more folks are watching the playoffs than are reading this blog, and yet, I don’t have to travel very far to hear the word ‘gay’ used as an insult. …and the antispam industry doesn’t have the NBA’s marketing budget. So, it looks like that solution probably won’t fly real well.

  4. Abs Farah says

    Oh yes, spam works and its a bad thing. However, it has created a whole industry that provides jobs to people to fight spam i.e messagelabs, barracuda, spamassassin. I have a feeling owners of these business might not mind it so much!


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