Focal Curve

Why Bulk Email *Is* Spam

I found this little spammer whine by way of spamNEWS, a daily email newsletter I subscribe to that aggregates news about spam (which should be obvious from the title). In this particular pro-spam editorial (under the guise of a “press release”), a spammer called Joseph Then attempts to once again play the redefinition game (see rule #1) in defense of spamming.

His redefinition of spam is “irresponsible” bulk email which doesn’t follow the suggested best practices of 1) honoring opt-out requests, 2) using unforged headers and 3) including real-world contact info. In other words, spamming is hunky dorey as long as you follow the CAN-SPAM Act’s guidelines for legalized spamming. Notice that at no point does he ever say you should obtain actual permission from the address owner, and it is the unsolicited nature of the spam which makes it spam, not the content of the message.

After choking back the bile that rose in my throat while reading his flagrantly biased, grammatically incorrect, typo- and error-ridden “press release” (see rule #3), I felt compelled to follow the link to his website. It’s a paid “members only” site for bulk emailers (spammers) where they can learn how to spam, chat with other spammers about spamming, get spamming software, and most importantly acquire more innocent (and largely invalid) email addresses to spam. The home page claims they add 300,000 freshly harvested email addresses every week and that they currently have a database of over 3.5 million “targeted” addresses. Of course, the home page is also dated 2002 so who knows what the current status is.


So let’s break this down point by point…

There are so many disputes surrounding the use of bulk e-mail. There are those who cry SPAM and others who call it what it is UCE (un solicited commercial e-mail) But the funny thing is that it is heavily used by many of the big boys like, AOL, Visa, Toy’s R us, E-Bay, Symantec, Xerox, CitiBank, Toyota, and the list goes on. Why can they do it and not us?

So… spam and UCE are synonymous. Duh. He seems to think using a TLA makes it sound legitimate. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s still theft of resources and an invasion of privacy.

Name-dropping some big companies who also spam is known in logic as an appeal to authority. It’s an informal fallacy in which you attempt to claim that because these big names do it, it must be true. In this instance there’s also a bit of appeal to popularity thrown in, where he argues that because so many people do it, it must be ok. This is fallacious reasoning, rendering the argument unsound. If a bunch of famous people jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? Idiot.

The truth is UCE is a growing medium that is constantly changing and being shaped by two forces. On one side we have the SPAM Police or those who take pleasure in complaining about what they can’t do themselves and on the other we have the ingenious script writers and programmers who come up with new ways to send out the mail without any SPAM filters blocking it while keeping the anonymity of the sender.

Wow, that’s just laughable. More informal logical fallacies, this time bifurcation, argumentum ad hominem and also poisoning the well wherein he challenges anyone to oppose his argument by including an open-ended insult within the argument itself. E.g. “A true patriot’s duty is to support our president” pretty much prevents someone from criticizing ShrubCo without being labeled unAmerican.

This spammer has accused anti-spam activists and privacy advocates of getting their wicked jollies by making trouble for the poor honest businessman because they’re simply jealous of their skill and intelligence. Gosh those script kiddies and virus writers who exploit flaws in technology to circumvent security precautions set in place to protect your basic human rights sure are smart! I sure wish I knew how to steal bandwidth and hide my identity so I could force unwanted advertisements for credit scams, hardcore porn, and potentially dangerous unregulated drugs into the eyeballs of unsuspecting people without their permission! But I’m just a dumb yokel with ethics, so I guess I’ll complain instead. </sarcasm>

The funny this is that while many detested SPAM, they are willing to look at the flyers and brochures that is left in their mailbox and car windscreen. Isn’t that “offline bulk emailing”? But why can they do it legally? Aren’t they “SPAMMING”?

I won’t bother commenting on the wretched grammar, let’s just do our best to parse that into clear English and move on. Firstly, the key difference between junk email and junk snail mail is that the sender has to pay to send snail mail. Most of us tolerate it (within reason) because it costs us nothing. And I’d wager hard currency that most of us don’t read it. Junk email unfairly defers the cost of delivery onto the recipient. You pay for your Internet access and your email account (even “free” email accounts come with a price in the form of advertising and various limitations).

So what is the difference between SPAM and Bulk Email? We put it in one simple sentence:

SPAM is irresponsible Bulk Emailing

Spam is unsolicited, bulk email is just bulk. It is the combination of bulk delivery and lack of permission which qualifies a given message as spam. A single message doesn’t bother me. Messages I asked for obviously don’t bother me. But flooding the Internet with messages nobody asked for is a major problem, and it is sleazy ignorant jerks like this guy who continue to make it worse.

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