The Anti-Spam Lies
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/22/02
The Big Lie
There is a threat to our American Civil Liberties that looms greater than all others.
It is something that the vast majority of the American public is in favor of.
No, I don’t mean President Bush’s xenophobic star chambers. I mean the
pending legislations against spam- or unsolicited commercial emails. Most
private citizens, & all big corporations support these would-be laws without
really thinking of the consequences. Let me restate- that is true for private
citizens. The big corporations, however, know fully well what they are doing
Of course, it’s a bit of a nuisance to get spam. But, really, unless it contains a virus there is no harm. It is far more ecological than paper junk mail. Delete it & it is lost to they cybervoid. The inks & chemicals in junk mail, have direct ecological consequences that can have effects that last decades. A spam is deleted in a second or so. So, why all the fuss? Unfortunately people believe they have a right to not be invited to do something- as if their email is their own homesteaded property. But, in truth, email addresses are de facto leased pieces of the Internet- a communal endeavor. Others have a right to post their wares & ideas on the bulletin board. You have a right to ignore it. But you’ve no right to tell others what they can & cannot post. Unfortunately Americans’ natal prudishness & penchant to censor is strong. & government & corporate lackeys feed on this. The government does so because it loves to micromanage its citizenry. The corporations do so because they want to eliminate start up businesses with interesting ideas- corporations always seek to monopolize- it’s a fact of business. That these 2 entities seek to limit yr freedoms is bad enough- but that they choose to do so by hiding behind so-called anti-spam grass roots organizations (many of which do not disclose their corporate sources of funding) is especially Machiavellian.
I am, as always, pro civil & human rights. As an artist, as well a person, I am unabashedly anti-anti-spam! Does this mean I approve of the many scam artists out there? No. But caveat emptor. The cosmos is a big bad place. If you’re worried about your kids getting invites to porno sites then YOU take precautions. Don’t limit others! So, agoraphobia becomes the solution for many. But, for the rest of us we should have full freedom to choose. Of the 2-3 dozen emails I get a day most are unsolicited, & alot is spam- perhaps 75-80%. I just delete it, easily- even those my spam filters don’t catch. Most are arts related orgs who have bought my email address from 1 or more sources- oh, did I tell you that a lot of orgs, including those in the arts, have lucrative side businesses reselling their lists? Believe me, I work for AT&T & know this as a fact. Especially as an unfunded website that is trying to put forth quality work by me & others, I get riled when I am falsely accused of spamming. I have NEVER spammed. Why? Because I have never sent an email with commercial intent regarding any of my endeavors. Period. Unless an email is commercial, it is NOT spam. Few realize this. But, ISPs are no defenders of liberty. They blow with the wind- &, in fact, are corporations! I do often put solicitations that are spam on my mailing lists, & it amazes how many get angry that I send them emails. The truth is that, unless some asshole sends a virus with their email, getting spam is no big deal. So why all the hoopla? Let’s look at some of the BS being spread by these ‘beards’- these corporate anti-spam organizations. I’ve gleaned alot of this from any # of anti-spam websites. I won’t give these devils free publicity, but do some Googling & they will float to the surface.
Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE)- aka spam or junk email- is a problem. Or THE
Lie #1: To understand the problem of UCE, you must first understand what is most often advertised via UCE. There are many places on the Internet where copies of UCE are reposted by recipients and system administrators in order to help notify the Internet community about where UCE is originating. Very few reputable marketers use UCE to advertise goods and services. Most commonly seen UCEs advertise chain letters, pyramid schemes, get rich quick schemes, phone sex, porno ads, software for collecting email addresses & sending spam, bulk e-mailing services for spam, bogus stock tips, quack medicinal goods, & illegal software goods.
I don’t know about you, but I- & most folk I know, would say that the majority of spams received come from groups or orgs that have targeted their interests- in my case poetry & the arts. Yes, I get the lengthen your penis, Nigerian wealth scams, hot young fellatio practitioners, & Ronco-type products. But, literally, only 1/3 are these sorts- or about 25% of all my emails. Most are from folk who’ve purchased my name off of poetry lists & seek to have me buy their stuff. Big deal. But it is to the big corporations who have similar products to hawk & pay millions to ad agencies, only to see profits drained off by small companies or individuals who can siphon off small chunks of business for practically no cost.
Lie #2: Spam costs alot of wasted resources
& money! Sending bulk email is amazingly cheap. A spammer can send millions
of spams an hour for little cost. However, every person spammed pays the cost of
dealing with it, & the costs for the spammed are much greater than the costs
of the spammer. Spammers say ‘Just hit Delete.’ Unfortunately, the problem
is much bigger than the time & effort of 1 person deleting a couple of
emails. There are many different places along the process of transmitting and
delivering email where costs are incurred. In the Internet world, ‘time’
equals many different things besides the hourly rate that many people are still
charged. For example, for an ISP, ‘time’ includes the load on the processor
in their mail servers; when their CPUs are tied up processing spam, it creates a
drag on all of the mail in that queue- wanted and unwanted alike. This is also a
problem with filtering schemes; filtering email consumes vast amounts of CPU
time and is the primary reason most ISPs cannot implement it as a strategy for
eliminating junk email.
Not so, not so, not so. Paper junk mail is cheap enough- having worked in a print shop I can tell you that 1 8½” x 11” piece of white typing paper costs about 1/1000th of a cent to produce. But an email costs about 1/100th to 1/1000th times as little to produce. The ISPs get paid whether they store spams or wanted emails- it’s up to the individual to choose what they want their leased space filled with. Sorry. Nothing comes without a modicum of responsibility. Here’s a fact- when you pay whatever you do per minute to make a long distance phone call- say 10¢ per minute- you are overpaying by even a greater measure than you do for prescription drugs. The energy needed to sustain a voice for that time costs about what that typing paper sheet does. Think about this- an email is far simpler, information-wise, than the tonalities of a voice. To maintain a spam on a server costs the same as any other email- & you are paying for it. Do not believe, for a second, that any costs are incurred by the ISPs. This is balderdash through & through! Of course, by claiming the increase in spam costs them more they have a perfect justification to raise rates, & rail against the techno-piratical spammers.
Lie #3: ISPs purchase bandwidth- their connection to the
rest of the Internet- based upon their projected usage by their customers. This
is the greatest portion of their budget & why most ISPs have a tiny profit
margin. Without spam, greater consumption of bandwidth would normally track
increased customers use. But, when a spammer consumes an ISP’s bandwidth, the
ISP has few choices: 1) let their customers cope with slower Internet access, 2)
eat the costs of increasing bandwidth, or 3) raise rates. In short, the
recipients are still forced to bear costs that the advertiser has avoided.
See Lie #2 for this. 1st off, most ISPs have tiny margins because the rates of Internet use has not nearly kept up with late 1990s projections, & there are a glut of ISPs that will fold. 2- ISPs lose nada as far as $- the customers pay for usage of their space & it’s up to them to manage it as they choose. & 3- if ISPs were really concerned about rates they would simply alert their customers to promptly delete email- or do it themselves. The reason they do not is simple. ISPs- especially the big media conglomerates- need spammers to further their own political & financial objectives- i.e.- to have bogeymen to blame their incompetence on, & justify raising rates. If that means stifling free speech, who cares? Apparently not the fat & sassy American public.
Lie #4: AOL estimated they handle 30 million email
messages each day, about 30% was spam. They claimed a tremendous burden to
process & store that amount of data, which undoubtedly contributed to many
of their access, speed, & reliability problems. Many large ISPs have
suffered major system outages as the result of massive spam campaigns. If huge
outfits like AOL, Earthlink, & AT&T can barely cope with the flood,
it’s no wonder small ISPs are dying at spam’s hand.
As a telecom worker for the past 5½ years I can state unequivocally that this is the most egregious lie yet. THE REAL REASON that outages occur has little to do with spam, but alot to do with poor management, & corporations that refused to invest the needed capital in updating their lines to handle the burgeoning Internet traffic. AOL & AT&T, as 2 of the 3 largest ‘backbone’ providers, as well as the bankrupt Worldcom, are both notorious for their outmoded systems. Worldcom splurged on up-to-date fiberoptics, & has paid a steep price by trying to cover up their over-investment, which failed. Believe me, it is the mismanaged telecom elephants themselves, not the proverbial spam mice, that are the real problem. As for the small ISPs- as I said, there is no problem, at least financially- ethically & rights-wise is another tale.
Lie #5: Spammers know the overwhelming majority (95% or
more) of recipients don’t want to receive their messages. As a result, many
junk emailers use tricks to get you to open their messages. For instance, they
make the mail ‘subject’ look like it is anything other than an ad. While
filters often consume more resources at the ISP, making mail delivery & web
surfing slower, they can sometimes help end-users cope a little bit better.
Spammers know this, so as they see that mail is being blocked or filtered, the
use tricks that help disguise the origin of their messages. 1 of the most common
tricks is to relay their messages off the mail server of an innocent third
party. This tactic doubles the damages: both the receiving system, & the
innocent relay system are flooded with spam. & any mail that gets through,
often times the flood of complaints goes back to the innocent site because they
were made to look like the origin of the spam.
As for most spammed not wanting spam, this is sort of like most people complaining about no real choices in their voting, yet never leaving the Democrats or Republicans for smaller party candidates that are better. People love to bitch wantonly. If most folk did not want spams then why is it a multi-billion dollar field? As for deceptive email headers- haven’t we all gotten envelopes marked ‘Urgent’? As long as they don’t contain real-world viruses, who cares? Same with spam. & we’ve seen the lie that spam is the cause of ISP server problems. No doubt, there are spammers without scruples, who fallaciously use others’ emails- but this is a classic example of conflating worst-case scenarios with the general rules. Simply not so.
Lie #6: When a spammer sends emails to a million people,
it is carried by numerous other systems en route to its destination, once again
shifting cost away from the originator. The carriers in between are suddenly
bearing the burden of carrying ads for the spammer. The number of spams sent out
each day is high, & each one must be handled by other systems: there is no
justification for forcing 3rd parties to bear the load of unsolicited
Well, 3rd parties are not bearing the costs. The spammers either pay for their own Internet access with an ISP- many of which know full well the bulk of their income comes from spammers (more on a specific case later)- or, have spent good money setting up their own servers- this is the American ingenuity & entrepreneurial spirit that most politicians trumpet- so why hate spammers, & try to outlaw them? Because of big campaign $ from big corporations.
Lie #7: Methods employed by spammers to avoid being held
responsible for their actions are often fraudulent & tortious. While major
corporations can afford to fight these cutting edge cyberlaw battles,
‘mom-and-pop’ ISPs are left to suffer. Economist Ronald Coase won a Nobel
Prize talking about it being particularly dangerous for the free market when an
inefficient business (that can’t bear its costs) distributes its costs across
a greater # of victims. When millions of people suffer a small amount of damage,
it is more costly for the victims to go out & hire lawyers to recover the
damages they suffer. The unnecessary costs continue until their damage becomes
so great that those costs outweigh the transaction costs of uniting and fighting
back. Spammers count on that: they hope that if they steal only a tiny bit from
millions of people, very few people will bother to fight back.
This is all true, economically- but irrelevant to the case of spam since spammers bear the costs of their transaction, & are not ‘stealing’ anything- at worst they are harmless frauds- unless they send viruses, but that’s more likely with hackers than spammers. The cases where this would really apply- illegal toxic dumping, political pork barrel projects, etc.- receive a fraction of the hate spammers do. Why this foment against spam? Because unlike pork barrels & dumping, there is no $ for politicians to glean from. Does this make a little more sense now? Also, major corps can afford to spam & battle back legally, while small spammers cannot, another reason big corporations wanna outlaw spam- it will only kill off their smaller, more innovative competitors. A little more light for ye?
Lie #8: When inefficiencies are allowed to continue, the
free market no longer functions at peak efficiency. Microeconomics states that
the ‘invisible hand’ balances the market & keeps it efficient, but
inefficiencies tip everything out of balance. In the context of the Internet,
these invisible marketplace forces aren't invisible anymore. The inefficiencies
can be seen every time you have trouble accessing a web site, or whenever your
email takes 3 hours to travel between ISPs, or when your ISP’s server crashes
in a flood of spam.
Obviously this was written before 2002, although it would still not apply decades or centuries ago, & decades or centuries from now. We have all seen that the free market is a myth. & stability exists only in government backed CDs & Savings Bonds. Corporations manipulate every aspect of the economy they can for their own good- just like these anti-spam organizations they play Gepetto to.
Lie #9: Email is increasingly becoming a critical
business tool. This is a problem akin to the 1980s Anti-Junk-Fax law. In the 1st
court challenge to that law, a junk fax company called Destination Ventures lost
their suit. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law was constitutional
because the imposition of high costs & inconvenience onto businesses &
consumers made the law a reasonable restriction. By extension, anti-spam
organizations (& their corporate sponsors) argue that spam isn’t different
from junk faxes in the way it consumes the resources of others.
Well, again, it does not consume resources & pays for itself. There is no use of company ink or paper- which a company OWNS, & the spammers are simply using systems the companies LEASE themselves. & most ISPs LEASE their systems from larger ISPs! That is a BIG difference.
Lie #10: Your email address is yours, you paid
for it, & you should have control over what it is used for. If you want to
receive unsolicited ads, you should be able to. But you shouldn’t be forced to
suffer unless you actually request it. This is the ‘Opt In’ approach pushed
by anti-spam orgs.
Again, you DO NOT OWN your email address, anymore than you own a domain name- you merely LEASE it! It is a de facto license to participate in something. Of course, Opt In or no, big corps will be free to spam you once they have the field to themselves. Can you spell M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y?
Spam is based on theft of service, fraud, deceit, & cost shifting to the
recipient. The great preponderance of products and services marketed by UCE are
of dubious legality. Any business that depends on stealing from its customers,
preying on the innocent, & abusing the open standards of the Internet is
doomed to failure.
All 4 claims I have shown are lies. Are there abuses? Of course- go after the abusers but do not lump in the ethical spammers, & non-spammers like me, who email around non-commercial emails. This is simply a full-frontal attack on the freedom of speech. 1 need not like what is being said, but the ability to say it is paramount. To attack spammers indiscriminately is to slander a group- something that is most often verboten in 21st Century American Society. Go after the true frauds. But, to do so would be too costly, & still leave a lot leaner & meaner competition for the fat cat corporations which, by the way, uniformly GOT FAT by theft, preying on the innocent & weak, & abusing standards & ethics. Geez, could the hypocrisy be anymore blatant?
Spam is the leading complaint of Internet users. Spam is ‘postage due’
marketing; like a telemarketer calling you collect. The economics of spam
encourages abuse because spammers can get into the business cheaply.
Notice how the anti-spam arguments (lies) are merely restatements of 3 or 4 basic fallacies. This is how corporations routinely do business: the old saw that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it is the defining rationale of anti-spam organizations. Also the theory of the BIG LIE being believed over the little lie. Having dealt directly with Internet customers I can tell you that spam is low on the list of Internet users’ complaints- tops on the list is fraudulently advertised products by ISPs, overcharges not according to contracted rates, fraudulent contracts themselves, & fraudulent services on a bill, not to mention the ISPs passing along of dubious costs of business such as the government’s UCC- Universal Connectivity Charge- which telecoms alone are to pay as a way to ensure poor people have telephone & Internet access at reasonable rates. Of course, the telecoms make all of us foot the bill. & do they tell you that complaints of their unethical practices far dwarf complaints of spam? What do you think?
Here are some excerpts from a recent Newsweek article on how anti-spam orgs have battled struggling entrepreneurial spammers:
….the 57-year-old father of three lives in a middle-class suburb of
Detroit. He started bulk e-mailing seven years ago, when he was flat broke. To
buy his first two computer servers, he had to sell his 1994 Toyota Camry. These
days Al Ralsky sends out more than 30 million e-mails a day and raves about the
possibilities of marketing on the Internet. “It’s the most fair playing
field in the world,” he says. “It makes you equal with any Fortune 500
In a popularity contest among Net users, spammers would probably rank only slightly above child pornographers. Spam….accounts for 30 to 50 percent of all e-mail traffic on the Net. Users are fed up, and big ISPs like AOL and Earthlink, increasingly overwhelmed by the excess traffic, are taking some spam operators to court. Meanwhile, vigilante anti-spam organizations….are aggressively blacklisting spam operators and publishing their home and family information on the Web. Anti-spam sentiment has even evolved to the point where spammers themselves are feeling like victims, and are defending what they call an honest, legal living. Maryland e-mailer Alan Moore, also known as “Dr. Fat” for his herbal weight-loss pills, says spammers are “helping the economy and adding to the GNP. People need to realize this.”….
Recently, life has become more onerous for bulk e-mailers. Companies and ISPs are using new software to identify and stop spam as it comes into the network, before it gets distributed to individual inboxes. (This is why spam subject lines are now misleadingly banal or end in numbers: to trick the software, not you.) And with so many more marketing messages clogging Net accounts, users are increasingly inclined to hit the DELETE button when they see a piece of spam. One bulk e-mailer says that when she started spamming in 1999, she could send out 100,000 e-mails and get 25 responses. Today, she has to send out a million messages to get the same response (a .0025 percent hit rate).
While most spammers claim they’ve made hundreds of thousands- some even say millions- of dollars in past years by taking big cuts of their clients’ revenue, they’re tight-lipped about their current income….[anti-spam orgs]: “We know they hardly make anything because they’re always complaining about it.” Several spam operations are also being threatened by litigation. For example, Al Ralsky has been sued in Virginia state court for allegedly sending millions of messages in mid-2000 that crashed the servers of Verizon Online. (His lawyer denies the charges.) The trial is set for this fall, but the judge in the Ralsky case has already ruled a spammer can be held liable in any state where his messages are received….
In a world where every niche industry speaks loudly to defend its interests, perhaps it’s not surprising that spammers are joining forces and trying to fight back. Thirty prolific e-mailers recently banded together in something called the Global E-mail Marketing Association (GEMA). The director, a southern California-based e-mailer who would like to be called “Tara,” says the purpose of GEMA is to regulate the industry and ensure its members abide by certain rules, such as allowing recipients to opt out of any list. She also wants to improve the public’s perception of spamming. First step: changing the name. “We are ‘commercial bulk e-mailers’….
Ronnie Scelson is another spammer showing defiance in the face of distaste for his profession. The 28-year-old father of three from Slidell, La., dropped out of high school in the ninth grade but says he’s made millions sending out 560 million e-mail messages a week, hawking everything from travel deals to lingerie. As a result, he drives a 2001 Corvette, and recently bought a five-bedroom home with a game room and pool. In May, the company Scelson founded, Opt-In Marketing, turned the tables and sued two ISPs and three anti-spam organizations in Civil District Court in New Orleans. The suit alleges that the ISPs, New Jersey-based CoVista and its Denver-based backbone provider Qwest, cut off his Internet access and denied his free-speech rights.
Scelson draws a distinction between his old profession, spamming, and his new one, bulk e-mailing: he says he currently allows people to take themselves off his lists and uses American ISPs to send e-mail instead of foreign relays. But spam is in the eye of the beholder, and recently one of his high-speed Internet lines was temporarily blocked by his new ISP. Now Scelson wonders aloud if playing by the rules is even worth it and threatens to return to his old ways. “I’m going back to spamming. I don’t care if I have to relay, work through a proxy or spoof an IP address, I’ll do it.”….
Anti-spammers practically leak venom when it comes to addressing the bid for dignity made by their rivals….Verizon exec Tom Daly says spam is insidious because it shifts the costs and burden of handling massive volumes of mail to the network providers….
Before I get on to my own personal travails with spammers & those who abuse the term, let me comment on this article. The Internet is supposed to be about freedom- especially of speech. Anti-spammers just don’t get that there is no right to not be offended or annoyed. Were there it would quickly supersede & subjugate all other rights. Note how the anti-spammers are using the same despicable tactics anti-abortionists do, by personally harassing spammers. Spam- a trillion dollar field- of course IS GOOD for the economy! Note that all the spammers talked of are small companies & individuals- yet Yahoo, & the ISPs send out far more spams than these small fries do. Finally, not the lame, & false protestation by the Verizon poobah. Since their whole claim is based on a few BIG LIES, they HAVE to repeat them over & over.
My Personal Tale
Cosmoetica in January of 2001, & have never had any commercial intent for
it. I soon got harassed, & personally & legally threatened by many
envious & psychotic individuals- some who falsely reported me to my ISP for
spamming, as revenge for not being able to keep up with my wit in email
arguments. But, as a non-commercial enterprise I can never be a spammer- period.
But I am sensitive to others’ wishes to not get Cosmo emails, as long as they
remove me from their lists- where 99.9% of the time I originally got their email
address from THEIR spam or unwanted non-commercial email. I then add back their
emails until they finally stop sending me emails. I don’t include the
gratuitous PLEASE REMOVE because 95% of the time that’s just a further scam to
ensnare active emails- hit it & you’ll get an email from the Postmaster
telling you that when you tried to Remove yourself from a spam
list, the address firstname.lastname@example.org
was unknown. Probably the worst example of this was from a fellow I’ll call
JR. He & I attended a poetry group years ago & he had gone out of his
way to diss me. Still, for over 2 years after getting my 1st pc I
forwarded around his art/poetry info emails, & sent mine to his list.
Shortly after starting Cosmoetica I posted a humor series called This Art Of
Life where I parodied the poetry scenes of New York & the Twin Cities. Less
than 48 hours after reading an episode where he was parodied, JR (who had
suffered from psycho-emotional problems) turned on me & claimed I was
spamming him & his e-list, even though I had been sending them emails for
over 2 years. JR vowed to shut down my site by telling my ISP I was spamming. He
was obviously seeking to censor my parody of him. I then requested he stop
emailing me but his harassment continued, until I reported him to his ISP for
spamming me- both accusations technically misnomers. It turned out JR was using
a local Minnesota ISP notorious for housing spammers. When I reported JR the
company literally told me to ‘fuck off’. I then reported them to the Better
Business Bureau & the State’s Attorney General. They got in trouble but
little was done. But it’s this sort of delusional nonsense that accounts for
alot of the spam complaints. Friends have words & then accuse each other of
spamming. Another example is a psychotic Finnish girl who cyberstalked my wife
last year- after months of threats & harassment she reported me for spamming
her for telling her to leave Jess alone.
But these are minor threats. As we’ve seen there really & truly are powerful & sinister forces that seek to undermine the treasured freedom of speech- the right that, without it, means swift demise to all the others. Once true spam- commercial emails- are banned, you can be sure that micromanagement of all email content will follow- no curse words, no mention of sexuality, religious & philosophical differences will be targeted. This is a far worse, & a far more serious threat than any book burning or banning. & you won’t have to read dystopian novels to encounter that- just wait a few years & anytime you argue with someone it may come back to haunt you. Then, you may long for the days of those who long to help you get out of debt, quickly!
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