Info Tech, Language, The Economy

Taken from a Monty Python skit were vikings sing a tribute to the canned meat, the word is no inextricably tied to junk e-mail and even Hormel Foods can’t get it back. Although there were chain e-mails as far back as 1982, the word spam” was first used to describe undesired mass postings to the internet in 1993. Even then it was used to refer to USENET (early chat rooms that evolved into Google Groups) posts, rather than e-mail. However, by 1994 the word was already being applied to e-mail as well.

But the question that has always bugged me is who is dumb enough to buy something advertised through SPAM?

I know that lots of normally intelligent people happily forward chain mail, urban legends, and hoaxes without a second thought. But that is quite different from giving your credit card and personal information to a total stranger selling a questionable product from a web site that probably doesn’t offer any security or even legitimate contact information. However, surprisingly enough, it seems that enough people do this to make it worthwhile pissing off everyone else.

Wired News recently discovered A security flaw at a website operated by the purveyors of penis-enlargement pills” and used the information to answer to the question: Who in their right mind would buy something from a spammer?”

An order log left exposed at one of Amazing Internet Products’ websites revealed that, over a four-week period, some 6,000 people responded to e-mail ads and placed orders for the company’s Pinacle herbal supplement. Most customers ordered two bottles of the pills at a price of $50 per bottle.

Do the math and you begin to understand why spammers are willing to put up with the wrath of spam recipients, Internet service providers and federal regulators.

…All were evidently undaunted by the fact that Amazing’s order site contained no phone number, mailing address or e-mail address for contacting the company. Nor were they seemingly concerned that their order data, including their credit card info, addresses and phone numbers, were transmitted to the site without the encryption used by most legitimate online stores.

Wired links to a story in Salon about the mentor” of the guy who runs this questionable business:

Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a chess expert and former neo-Nazi leader who turned to the spam business in 1999 after it became public that his father was Jewish.

That story points out that Spam is only profitable because the costs are so low.” By forcing Spammers to constantly change internet providers, as well as making their identities public, it is possible to raise those costs.

Personally, I used to report all of my SPAM to, but that got too laborious after a while. Now I rely on the excellent spam filtering of my mail host, Although the basic service is enough for me, they now also offer a premium anti-spam service with extra features. But to be honest, the best strategy is to have two e-mail addresses. One that you make public, and one that you only give to friends and family. When the public one (which you use for online shopping, etc.) becomes flooded with spam you can change it, but your friends and family will still be able to reach you. You can also use disposable” e-mail addresses that expire after a specified time period. A full list of spam fighting solutions can be found here.