A Spammy Halloween Story

For this Halloween, boys and girls, we have a really scary story. What makes it truly frightening is that it’s 100 percent true.

Spam is even more frightening than Napster. It doesn’t just take bandwidth from ISPs and waste users’ time. Since nearly all spam is for porn, scams, or fake “deals,” it causes buyers to believe even less in real pitches and Internet commerce as a whole.

Well, boys and girls, the amount of spam quintupled this year, even while general Net usage grew modestly. Brightmail says more product salespeople are using it, and spammers are getting better at evading antispam filters. Spam, in other words, is crowding out legitimate business.

CAUCE has been fighting the good fight against spam for years and thought it finally had a decisive victory in the form of H.R. 3113, a bill from New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson to restrict the practice. It passed the House with just a single dissenting vote and went to John McCain’s Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

There, apparently, it died. According to Anthony Phipps of the Spam Recycling Center, it was met there by a phony antispam bill, S. 2542, which, according to Phipps, “did little more than legitimize unsolicited commercial email, provided it adhered to certain labeling and opt-out standards.”

If you want to scare an Internet businessman tonight, Phipps suggests you go dressed as the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Its fingerprints were all over this one in the form of campaign contributions to S. 2542’s sponsors. Those sponsors are an interesting bipartisan group that includes Montana Republican Conrad Burns, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. (Another recipient of DMA largesse is Chairman McCain. Say it ain’t so, John!)

The political lesson here is that money corrupts politics, including those politicians who want to reform the system. “The DMA purchased a lot of access to the people in D.C. who decide what bills move and what bills die,” according to Phipps. “In the case of H.R. 3113, it looks like they’re going to get what they wanted.”

The irony for me, of course, is that if failure to pass tough antispam legislation hurts anyone, it’s the average DMA member. Even double opt-in click-throughs are dropping, in part, because of email exhaustion. People are tired of having to clear junk from their inboxes and no longer believe anything.

Finally, hearken to the words of spammer G. Dominguez, whose (alleged) return address is on Telefonica El Salvador’s system, far from the reach of even the toughest antispam law.

“There is so much to say about SPAMING, which others name as DIRECT MARKETING,” Dominguez writes. “Have you ever thought what would happen with all trade affairs if one day all Unsolicited Advertising would be strictly prohibited? That would mean no advertising on TV, Newspapers… Nowhere! What would happen then? The whole world economy would halt, you wouldn’t watch any advertising any more, even about food products, and neither find them [sic].”

Dominguez adds that he wants his own spam (he proudly calls himself an “opportunity seeker”) to be read but then admits, “I became a bit irritated when receiving the same message again and again (about 30 times) from the same guy. I did proceed to notify about this abuse.”

So there you have it. Even spammers know others’ spam is bad, yet they go on, either outside the law or protected by it. Your resource is being stolen, your livelihood is being destroyed, and there’s nothing you can do about it because even honest politicians can be rented by the forces of darkness.

Sleep well, children.

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