Why is spam bad?Q. Why do we get soooo upset when we receive E-mail
which was not requested?
There are several reasons:
Any one of these six would be enough to make me
pretty unhappy about getting junk e-mail. Put them together and it's
- The free ride. E-mail spam is unique in that the receiver pays so much more for
it than the sender does. For example, AOL has said that they were receiving
1.8 million spams from Cyber Promotions per day until they got a court
injunction to stop it. Assuming that it takes the typical AOL user only 10
seconds to identify and discard a message, that's still 5,000 hours per day of
connect time per day spent discarding their spam, just on AOL. By contrast,
the spammer probably has a T1 line that costs him about $100/day. No other
kind of advertising costs the advertiser so little, and the recipient so much.
The closest analogy I can think of would be auto-dialing junk phone calls to
cellular users; you can imagine how favorably that might be received.
- The ``oceans of spam'' problem. Many spam messages say ``please
send a REMOVE message to get off our list.'' Even disregarding the question of
why you should have to do anything to get off a list you never asked to join,
this becomes completely impossible if the volume grows. At the moment, most of
us only get a few spams per day. But imagine if only 1/10 of 1 % of the users
on the Internet decided to send out spam at a moderate rate of 100,000 per
day, a rate easily achievable with a dial-up account and a PC. Then everyone
would be receiving 100 spams every day. If 1% of users were spamming at that
rate, we'd all be getting 1,000 spams per day. Is it reasonable to ask people
to send out 100 ``remove'' messages per day? Hardly. If spam grows, it will
crowd our mailboxes to the point that they're not useful for real mail. Users
on AOL, which has a lot of trouble with internal spammers, report that they're
already nearing this point.
- The theft of resources. An increasing number of spammers, such as
Quantum Communications, send most or all of their mail via innocent
intermediate systems, to avoid blocks that many systems have placed against
mail coming directly from the spammers' systems. (Due to a historical quirk,
most mail systems on the Internet will deliver mail to anyone, not just their
own users.) This fills the intermediate systems' networks and disks with
unwanted spam messages, takes up their managers' time dealing with all the
undeliverable spam messages, and subjects them to complaints from recipients
who conclude that since the intermediate system delivered the mail, they must
be in league with the spammers.
Many other spammers use ``hit and run'' spamming in which they get a trial
dial-up account at an Internet provider for a few days, send tens of thousands
of messages, then abandon the account (unless the provider notices what
they're doing and cancels it first), leaving the unsuspecting provider to
clean up the mess. Many spammers have done this tens or dozens of times,
forcing the providers to waste staff time both on the cleanup and on
monitoring their trial accounts for abuse.
- It's all garbage. The spam messages I've seen have almost without
exception advertised stuff that's worthless, deceptive, and partly or entirely
fraudulent. (I include the many MLMs in here, even though the MLM-ers rarely
understand why there's no such thing as a good MLM.) It's spam software, funky
miracle cures, off-brand computer parts, vaguely described get rich quick
schemes, dial-a-porn, and so on downhill from there. It's all stuff that's too
cruddy to be worth advertising in any medium where they'd actually have to pay
the cost of the ads. Also, since the cost of spamming is so low, there's no
point in targeting your ads, when for the same low price you can send the ads
to everyone, increasing the noise level the rest of us have to deal with.
- They're crooks. Spam software invariably comes with a list of names
falsely claimed to be of people who've said they want to receive ads, but
actually consisting of unwilling victims culled at random from usenet or
mailing lists. Spam software often promises to run on a provider's system in a
way designed to be hard for the provider to detect so they can't tell what the
spammer is doing. Spams invariably say they'll remove names on request, but
they almost never do. Indeed, people report that when they send a test
``remove'' request from a newly created account,, the usually start to receive
spam at that address.
Spammers know that people don't want to hear from them, and generally put
fake return addresses on their messages so that they don't have to bear the
cost of receiving responses from people to whom they've send messages.
Whenever possible, they use the ``disposable'' trial ISP accounts mentioned
above so the ISP bears the cost of cleaning up after them. I could go on, but
you get the idea. It's hard to think of another line of business where the
general ethical level is so low.
- It might be illegal. Some kinds of spam are illegal in some
countries on the Internet. Especially with pornography, mere possession of
such material can be enough to put the recipient in jail. In the United
States, child pornography is highly illegal and we've already seen spammed
child porn offers.
Spammers do more than
John Levine / Trumansburg NY / Primary Perpetrator of "The Internet for Dummies"
and Information Superhighwayman wanna-be