Unproven Facts And Outright Myths About Spam

from the good-list dept

If you read a lot of news articles about spam (and I do), you hear certain things over and over (and over) again. Rebecca Lieb, over at ClickZ, has put together a top ten list of these things – all of which are unproven or outright myths. My favorite one is the idea that you can define spam. As the article suggests, spam is entirely in the eye of the beholder. End users define spam as “anything they don’t want” – and that’s exactly what spam is.

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Comments on “Unproven Facts And Outright Myths About Spam”

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slim says:

SPAM isn't the problem

The reason nobody can agree on the definition of SPAM is simple … SPAM isn’t the problem!

“Unsolicited Commercial Email” is the problem, and the media perpetuates it by insisting on calling it SPAM.

Here’s a good definition of SPAM: “Anything I don’t want.” Pretty nebulous, huh? That’s why SPAM can’t be outlawed. (Hell, my own MOTHER spam’s me with useless information I don’t want and didn’t ask her to send me!)

Unsolicited Commercial Email, however, is very easy to define:

a) I didn’t ask you to send me this SPECIFIC information (ergo: its Unsolicited)
b) The communication is designed to elicit the transfer of a good or service either for money, or for free (ergo, it’s commercial)
c) I received the communication from you in my emailbox (ergo: it’s email!)

UCE can, and should be outlawed. Here’s a good law: If Macy’s sends me UCE, I should get whatever product they’re trying to sell me for free!

That alone would end the REAL problem forever.

BoilerBob says:

Re: SPAM isn't the problem

I doubt that would end the real problem. Legit etailers like Macy’s that send a month email “catalogue” would give a way a ton of free stuff. All the viagra, single’s online, get rich quick with stocks, houses, email, etc. would do what most phishing and porn sites do, setup a web site, spam away, collect as much $$ as possible, abandon web site for a new one. What do you get from them?

If I could get rid of the scams, I could deal with the Macy’s of the world.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: SPAM isn't the problem

I understand what you’re saying, but I disagree with your UCE definition. Here’s why:

Yesterday I received an email from a publisher of a well known technology magazine asking me to add a link on Techdirt to their site.

(a) I didn’t ask for this specific information.
(b) It was commercial (we’re both in business here…)
(c) It was email.

However, it was a legitimate business request, which I did not consider to be spam at all.

Example 2:

A few weeks ago, someone emailed me to say they were starting a new business, and were hoping to talk to me about the possibility of a partnership. It was clear they were a reader of the site and it was a genuine request.

(a) I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t even know the person.
(b) It was designed to elicit a commercial transfer of services.
(c) It was email.

Again, not spam in my book.

The definitions are hard…

slim says:

Re: Re: SPAM isn't the problem

Your definition of “commercial” is overly broad.

Example 1 is flawed. You said:

“It was commercial (we’re both in business here …)”

The fact that you are “both in business” does not make his legitimate business request UCE. He’s not trying to sell you a good or a service. He’s merely asking you for a favor that costs you nothing and in fact, might even enhance your standing in the community.

Example 2 is flawed: You said: “were hoping to talk to me about the possibility of a partnership”

Again, this person is not trying to sell you a good or a service.

Is my definition going to fit EVERY CONCEIVEABLE CIRCUMSTANCE? Of course not, nor should it attempt to.

I’ll give you an example: Define “murder.” Any definition you propose I can shoot down with unique circumstances you didn’t forsee. And yet, murder is against the law. This fact alone does not stop ALL people from killing other people, but it certainly gives the aggrieved parties a forum where an attempt can be made to apply a reasoned definition to the circumstances.

Chris says:

Re: Re: Re: SPAM isn't the problem

If there is going to be a law, and there probably will be sooner or later, I think the legal definition of spam needs to have 2 factors:

1. unsolicited
2. automated or sent in bulk.

Like Mike pointed out, a lot of unsolicited email is ultimately wanted by the recepient. We don’t want to do anything to discourage spontaneous person to person communication. That would kill email. Actually, I sort of got to know Mike by sending him an unsolicted email with my resume enclosed. I guess I’m lucky he didn’t throw California’s penal code at me in response 🙂

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: SPAM isn't the problem

If that’s the case, spammers will simply set up their messages so that they’re not “commercial”, but still talk about “partnerships”.

Besides, I’d argue that the request for a partnership is VERY MUCH a commercial email. Every partnership I’ve been involved in is, in reality, about selling a good or service.

I agree that definitions can always be debated, but when a fairly significant portion of emails break the definition, it’s a problem. In the case of “murder”, only a very small number of cases are borderline. That’s not the case with your definition of UCE.

Michael M (user link) says:

Re: Re: SPAM isn't the problem

Well, both of those *are* Unsolicited Commercial Email. In your case, you welcome some types of UCE.

Neither is Unsolicited Bulk Email, my preferred replacement for ‘spam’.

“UCE” smacks of the ancient “anything commercial doesn’t belong on our precious Internet” attitude, ignores the major problem with spam (bulk sending), and leaves a huge gap for things like religious spam, political spam, and time-travel spam, none of which are ‘commercial’…

Beck says:

Create Your Own Definition

I used to wonder if spam would kill e-mail. Now I wonder if e-mail filters will kill spam.

Since everyone has their own definition of spam, I think the best way to filter e-mail is using a Bayesian filter, which “learns” what you consider to be spam. If you are considering this option, start saving all of your email, including the junk mail, which should go into a separate folder. Then you can use the saved mail to “train” the filter.

I started using a Bayesian filter recently (SpamBayes for Outlook). I had saved all of my e-mail for six months, including 13,000 spam messages. SpamBayes analyzed all of my saved mail to determine what I consider to be good and what I don’t want, and now the filtering results are fabulous.

I don’t really think that filters will kill spam because there are too many people who don’t have the technical know-how needed to set up effective filtering. And actually I think this is good, because if too many people filter out the spam then the spammers will put resources into finding ways to defeat the filters.

aNonMooseCowherd says:

sender pays

A sender-pays system may be the best solution. In the cases you mentioned where unsolicited commercial email has a legitimate business purpose, presumably the senders believe that their pitch is attractive enough to be worth spending a penny or so to send the message. This won’t work for spammers depending on a 0.001 percent response rate.

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