All About Spam
© 2013 Elena Fawkner
Spam. It's the bane of anyone who conducts business online.
It's becoming such a major headache that law-makers the
world over are struggling to legislate it out of existence, alas
without much success. For the time being at least, it's here to
stay, so let's take a look at the dreaded stuff -- what it is, what
it isn't, what you can do about it and how to avoid doing it
WHAT IT IS
What it is, is the registered trademark of the Hormel Foods
Corporation (see http://www.spam.com). It's canned meat, very
popular with the military so I understand.
Purists, however, will tell you that, in the Internet context, spam is
either a single article posted repeatedly to large number of Usenet
newsgroups or email sent to a large number of addresses. In its
previous incarnation, for an email to be spam it had to be sent in
large quantities. That was the key characteristic. Now, of course,
the definition has broadened and the focus has shifted from one of
quantity or volume to recipient-consent, more particularly the lack
thereof, regardless of the number of recipients.
The term "spam" comes from a famous Monty Python sketch.
As explained by Hormel Foods itself: "Use of the term "SPAM" [in
the Internet context] was adopted as a result of the Monty Python
skit in which a group of Vikings sang a chorus of "SPAM, SPAM,
SPAM ..." in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other
conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE [unsolicited
commercial email] was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet."
For the rest of spam.com's interesting position statement on the use
of its trademark in this fashion, see .
A good spam analogy is the unsolicited telemarketing calls that
invariably come when you're in the middle of dinner. The difference
between spammers and telemarketers, however, is that
telemarketers don't have the gall to expect you to pay to receive
the call (other than in terms of your time). The spammer, on the
other hand, does indeed have the gall, and in spades.
The generally accepted current definition of spam encompasses
five categories of email.
1. Unsolicited ads sent via email to any number of recipients (even
one). Some people would not agree with this definition on the
grounds that if it's only sent to one (or only a few), then it is not sent
in sufficient quantity to qualify as spam. Personally, I don't give a
flying fig how many OTHER people are receiving the same rubbish,
I only care that I am.
2. Unsolicited bulk mailing, regardless of its nature. This would
include bulk mailing of the latest round of dumb blonde jokes, not
just commercial advertising material. Again, I don't really care
what kind of rubbish it is, only that it is rubbish and it's landed
in my inbox.
3. Off-topic postings to mailing lists, newsgroups or other forums.
I would agree with this definition where the off-topic posting was
commercial in nature, frivolous (such as jokes) or completely
irrelevant (such as religious sermonizing to a completely
disinterested group) but wouldn't consider it spam if, for example,
someone belonging to and regularly contributing to a mailing list
related to cats posted an "off topic" message with a question
about their sick dog.
4. Using mailing lists or newsgroups in a manner outside the
volume or frequency its readers signed up for. It's one thing to sign
up for an ezine, it's quite another to be bombarded with the ezine
owner's advertising messages three times a day, every day.
5. Adding someone to a mailing list without consent and requiring
them to opt-out. This is particularly annoying. Not only has
someone had the temerity to arbitrarily add you to their list without
your consent, they require YOU to take a positive step to get off it!
I would add a sixth category, and if you're an ezine publisher
you'll know *exactly* what I'm talking about:
6. Signing up for an ezine using an autoresponder address so
that the ezine publisher receives your advertising every time they
send the ezine that you signed up for.
Whether you agree with the above definitions or not, they all have
one common thread ... whether the recipient consented to receive
That's a good rule of thumb and you won't go far wrong in your
business mailings if you ask yourself this question every time
before you send a message: did the recipients (and each and
every one of them) consent, in some form, to receiving this mail?
Now, obviously, not every one on your list has specifically emailed
you and asked to be added to your mailing list. For example,
most list members will have subscribed themselves to your ezine
by completing a form at your site, or website visitors will have
indicated consent to receiving updates about your site by supplying
their email address when submitting a survey that clearly stated
that by submitting their email address they consent to receiving
email from you from time to time.
And NO, for our purposes, it doesn't change the character of a
spam email to include removal instructions. It's spam when it's
sent to someone who didn't in some way ask to receive it. The
wrong is in the *sending*. Period.
You've no doubt been the recipient of (way too much) email that
starts out "This is not spam [just love these]. This message is
being sent in compliance with H.R. Bill 12345 which states that
the sender of an email cannot be prosecuted for sending
unsolicited commercial email if the email contains remove
In the first place, to the best of my knowledge, such a bill has not
yet passed into law (although several do finally appear to be close
to proclamation). In the second place, the provisions of such
legislation will be relevant to whether the transmission of the email
concerned is *lawful*. The issue of spam as it relates to you and
me and our online businesses is about more than whether it is
lawful. It is about whether it is good business practice to make the
recipients of your advertising bear the cost of your sending it without
asking you to do so in the first place.
Whether it's lawful or not, it's just NOT good business practice and
people have every *right* to object to paying ISP fees for the privilege
of receiving junk mail.
WHAT IT ISN'T
Bulk email sent to an opt-in list is not spam. What's opt-in? Simply,
it means that the recipients "opted" to receive email from you by
taking some positive step such as providing an email address for that
purpose, or by confirming they wished to subscribe to an ezine (or,
in the case some third party subscribed them without their
knowledge, failing to unsubscribe themselves) when the publisher
sends an acknowledgement of subscription including unsubscribe
instructions in case the person had been subscribed by a third party.
Just because it's sent in bulk doesn't make it spam (under the
currently accepted definitions). I publish an ezine each week and
send it to my opt-in list of several thousand people. That's not
spamming because, to the best of my knowledge, each person on
my list signed up to receive it. The fact that several people on my
list may have been signed up by malicious third parties as part of
a concerted mailbomb attack (with the intent that the recipient be
flooded with mail from all quarters) doesn't make ME a spammer
unless I know that the person didn't subscribe, wanted to be
removed and I failed to remove them ONCE they gave me the
correct email address used to subscribe them! To protect yourself
from this type of complaint, see "How to Be Sure You're Not
Doing It" below.
Whether it's spamming to send email to someone just because
they've emailed you first is a gray area. Some people staunchly
maintain that they're free to email you anything without fear of
being guilty of spamming if you send them anything first. Personally,
I don't subscribe to this theory. If I subscribe to your ezine, I don't
think that entitles me to bombard you with my advertising. On this
view, it follows that those "subscribers" who have signed up to my
ezine using an autoresponder address that sends an ad in response
to mailings of the ezine, are spamming. (And if I can be bothered
one day when I'm very, very bored to find out who you are, you'll be
booted from here to Kingdom come.)
By the same token, how is one to initiate a business transaction
if no-one can make the first move? I receive, on a fairly regular
basis, email from people wanting to do business with me. These
emails are, without question, commercial solicitations -- they're
making me a business proposal. Spamming? Not in my book.
If someone takes the time and trouble to select my site or me
as a prospective business partner, they'll get a considered
response. But send the same message to 1,000 of us (such as
an invitation to participate in your new affiliate program) and
you've just crossed the line. Where that fine line is is not easy
to determine. It's easy to say from the edges what's spamming
and what isn't but the closer you get to that fine line in the middle,
the blurrier it becomes.
HOW TO REDUCE IT
So, now that you know what spam is, how do you reduce it?
=> Spam Filters
The first way is using spam filters. These are the equivalent of
caller ID to weed out the telemarketers (all those "unknown
caller" calls you get).
Three spam filters recommended by the authoritative zdnet.com
(http://www.zdnet.com) are Novasoft's SpamKiller which filters
email against an extensive listing of known spammers, subjects
and headers (free trial, thereafter $29.95 to buy); Contact Plus'
SpamBuster which comes with an editable list of 15,000
spammers (free trial, thereafter $19.95 to buy); and Fundi
Software's Mail Guard which previews messages and blocks
those from defined sources at the source (free to try, $20 to buy).
=> Filter Function
In addition to these commercially available spam filters, your
existing email program already probably provides a filter function.
These built-in filters can normally be set up to filter emails with
particular words or characters in the subject line (such as $$$$$,
FREE!!!!) as well as emails without your email address in the "To:"
field. Make sure to make a list of ezines and mailing lists you
are a member of before finalizing your filters though, otherwise
you'll delete everything without your email address in the
=> Protecting Your Email Address
An often-recommended (but, as I will explain, dubious) strategy
is to protect your email address from harvesting by putting in
some obviously-to-be-removed characters in your email address
where it appears in the "From" field, for example,
email@example.com . The theory is that a human (as
distinct from a spammer's email-address-harvesting robot) wanting
to respond to your email will know enough to delete the "nospam."
part of the address. In theory that's all very well. In my experience
though, there are plenty of people out there who are clueless when
it comes to this sort of technicality (many of whom are your
prospective customers) and will not understand what's going on
when their mail to you keeps bouncing. A VERY good way to
lose prospective customers.
=> Never Reply
NEVER NEVER NEVER respond to spam or act on the "remove"
address. At best the address probably won't work. At worst, you'll
confirm to the spammer that your address is valid and mail to it is
being read. The result of which, of course, is more of the same.
=> Use Separate Email Addresses
Use a separate email address when posting to newsgroups and
mailing lists since these are rich sources of email addresses for
=> Go Big Game Hunting
Spend all your time hunting down spammers and prosecuting them
to the fullest extent of the law. There is NO END of resources
devoted to that very subject. There are people out there, I kid you
not, who have made it their life's work to track down the source of
every single piece of unsolicited email they receive. You too can
join this most worthy cause. Of course, you will put yourself out of
business in the process because instead of spending your time on
productive business activities you're spending it tracking down the
source of all of your spam email. But, of course, if you put yourself
out of business you will no longer need an email address and need
never bother with spam again! What a clever little vegemite!
So, if you're bored out of your tree and have absolutely NOTHING
better to do with your time and figure that spammer-hunting is at
least as worthwhile an expenditure of time as watching Oprah or
Blind Date, be my guest. I recommend the CAUCE ("Coalition
Against Unsolicited Commercial Email") website at
http://www.cauce.org as a good place start your new crusade.
=> Avoid Providing Your Email Address
If filling out forms online, avoid giving your email address if at all
possible. If that's not possible, then made sure you check "no"
next to the box that asks if its OK to send mail to that address.
=> AOL Users
If you're an AOL user, delete your member profile. These profiles
are a rich source of personal information ... a spammer's dream.
HOW TO BE SURE YOU'RE NOT DOING IT
Here's a few rules to help keep you on the straight and narrow:
=> DON'T send anything (except genuine business proposals to
carefully selected individuals), especially commercial advertisements,
surveys, questionnaires etc. to anyone who hasn't given their
permission to receive it.
=> DON'T send chain mail. I don't care what the mail says will
happen to you if you don't pass it on. What will happen to you
if you do is worse.
=> DO use the BCC field to send bulk mail to your opt-in list,
NEVER the CC field. By placing the email addresses of your
recipients in the BCC (blind carbon copy) field, those addresses
are "blind" or hidden from the view of the recipients. If you put
them in the CC field, everyone can see everybody else's address.
=> DO be selective when it comes to your email source. Don't
fall for the million addresses on this one $9.95 CD hype. There
are reputable sources of email lists you can rent or buy if that's
the way you want to go. Try http://www.postmasterdirect.com
as one example. Remember: you get what you pay for.
it's a condition of receiving your ezine that your subscribers
accept daily ads from you, say this up front at the place on your
site where the prospective subscriber provides their email address.
=> DO verify email addresses/subscriptions by emailing subscribers
to confirm receipt of their subscription and providing them with a
way of unsubscribing if someone else subscribed them. Some
publishers require the subscriber to email back an acknowledgement.
That's called "double opt-in" which is even safer.
=> DO keep a record of all subscribe requests if you publish an
ezine so you can prove, in response to an unjustified spam
complaint, that the recipient did, indeed, opt-in to your list.
Although spam appears set to be an unfortunate fact of Internet
life, by utilizing the above techniques you will minimize much of
the inconvenience, distraction and just plain hassle that goes
along with it. Hopefully one day in the not too distant future,
someone, somewhere will finally come up with an effective means
of eradication. Until then, we'll all just have to keep putting up
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Elena Fawkner is editor of Home-Based Business Online.
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Wednesday, 08-Apr-2020 13:20:58 CDT