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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The first spam in the world*

This is how I got a shiv in to one of the first spammers. There's a footnote to explain why I think spam should be punishable by the death penalty. This is going to be a long post, so get comfortable.

In the late '80's and early '90's, my children, I used a discussion network called USENET
in the same way people today use on-line forums, interest groups and social networking sites. I was a contributor to a couple of groups about recreational sailing. I owned a boat, had some experience and I was able to pontificate to the grateful and less-experienced masses.

All this changed, when spam started to load up my email inbox. Every post I made started to become the subject of a couple of lame attempts to sell things to me. It wasn't even sailing-related stuff. Eventually, the volume of spam became so large that got I fed up, changed my email address and stopped participating in the groups. It had been a pleasant pasttime, and I was very unhappy that it couldn't continue, as there isn't much sailing up here when the water gets hard.

In the couple of years between the arrival of the first spam and my surrender of my right to free speech (which is how I feel about it), I encountered a particularly hapless spammer. She (for it was apparently a female) had strung together a couple of email messages each containing advertisements for about six different products. (These were the days when there were few enough spam messages that I wrote indignant responses back to senders :-)

Among the products in her messages were these:
  • Printing company in North Carolina
  • Adult videos for sale somewhere unspecified
  • A sale at a lumber store in Raleigh
  • "Wedding party favors" and wedding services (whatever they may be)
  • Pet store
You get the picture.

I leaped into action...because the spammer had given out her customers' email addresses in each of the little ads, and the email addresses were all from the same domain name, I thought that a little direct action was worth trying. Of course...the sender of the spam had blocked responses, but her customers were relying on incoming email to do their business (I presume that was her pitch to them).

I sent a dozen little emails, along the lines of "your message is unwelcome because I am paying to pick up my email" (yes we did pay per byte in those days). The best one was like this:

Dear wedding party favors vendor,
I am shocked and appalled that I have received your commercial message along with that for a pornographic film purveyor, obviously from the same service. I would not use your company because you are associated with this service provider who is promoting unsavory and possibly illegal material.
Yours etc.
Sue W....

(slight emphasis on nice female persona, presumably a target for wedding party stuff.)

The reaction was gratifying. Within the day I received a choleric email from the spammer. This was nearly a thousand words of outrage, threats, denial of wrongdoing, denial that I could possibly be upset by a suggestion that I should consider her porn-vending customer's products, how could I stop her constitutional rights to free speech, etc. and in closing, with the fact that she had blocked responses from me in future. I guess it would have been excessive to ask if I was now off her mailing list...

It was a good day. I felt much better. Obviously she (or perhaps a disguised he) had been reamed out by some or all of the targets of my messages. Revenge is a confession of hurt, but it was sweet.

Footnote: Why I think spammers should be executed:

I do not think that the death penalty is right. I've lived in both England and in Canada and capital punishment hasn't been allowed in either country for a long time. However, I think that spammers and those that enable spammers should be taken out and shot. Nah...something more spectacular.

These people are clogging up the arteries of the Internet, costing millions, infringing on the rights of the digital commons, if you like, to sell me stuff I don't want, can't use, can't understand. They try to take over machines for nefarious purposes, but most of all, they have cost me and many others, their right to free discourse in such as USENET groups and many other forums. The fact that many sites require registration, login, visible-only code words and other tedious impediments is due largely to these scum. They know better, but do it anyway.

Off with their heads!

* - an exaggeration, and a downright lie.

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