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Social SPAMmers

Personally I find my email address abused most by “Social SPAMmers” – these are the people who I have the biggest grievance against – including my wife. These people send me emailed petitions, jokes, “good luck” messages and pitiful stories about sick puppies with eight legs who’s life can be saved only through global awareness.

Its doesn’t take long for chain emails to circle the globe these days. About 10 years ago, some high school students found it took around seven days. Now its been done in well under three. Only a few weeks back I received one of these “joke emails” by a guy (Peter!) sitting next to me in the office, two days later the same email was sent to me by another guy (Joe) sitting the other side of me. Both had different trails, but I’m sure the missing link was in Wellington somewhere. Probably the guy at the other side of the room.

So anyway, I received an online petition from my wife. She sent it to my “official” email address I give out to only personally trusted sources. She also CC’d everyone in her address book. “What!” I screamed, “what have you done?”. It wasn’t that bad in the end but I had to do her bidding for a month for the shouting.

Cut to the chase, these emails annoy the be-jaysus out of me. The email in question started an online petition in the name of a political party. The 100th person had to forward the email onto the party’s contact address. After some investigation, turns out the instigator was in the marketing business. Was this a clever ploy? I cant be sure. Especially as there was no request to CC him on it.

There are two ways of looking at this. Firstly he may be hoping that the email will make its way back to him. He’s now got names, email, and home addresses. He’s also promoting his website – I know I gave him a few “hits” investigating him online. Did he do it on purpose? maybe – maybe not. Either way, his brand has now reached well over 100 people without breaking any laws, even the new NZ anti-spamming legislation. The second viewpoint is a little darker and involves the politicians. As the political party is set to receive a copy when the names reach 100, the party now has 100 potential voters who share their viewpoint. They have their names, email and home addresses. Guess who’s getting a knock on the door, and a lot of junk mail in their letterbox in the future.

In my opinion, this could be perceived by some as amateur spam. Nothing scientific in it. There is no guarantee that the instigator will get the message back or that he/she was seeking promotion of their business by adding their domain within the email.

Is spamming an intent to destroy or annoy? I feel spammers fit into three categories. Those who go out to intentionally destroy, those who spam or general annoyance (and personal interest) and those who simply don’t understand what they exposed themselves to by forwarding on that message to seven friends because that puppy sounded so damn helpless.

The experiment about seeing how quickly an email can make its way round the world is an interesting one – and worth trying. It would provide good stats on what a well worded and well structured email is capable of and how far it can go. It doesn’t have to have fancy code nor viruses attached. Just like dropping a message in a bottle in the ocean. It may come back, but most likely will wash up in your co-workers inbox which will warrant a slap round the back of the head.

SPAMing isn’t just restricted to emails either – how many people wasted their phone credit or jacked up their phone bill just because they got a text message saying if they forwarded the message to 10 friends they would get $20 credit. That brought a major NZ mobile network to its knees not so long ago.

Companies are spending thousands of dollars fighting this. People are spending thousands of dollars trying to stop it. Professional spammers are spending precious social intercourse time in front of PC’s trying to get around the companies spam rules. Vicious circle. As my father always said – Education is the key.

Anyway, for those out there who try the experiment out of sending a global boomerang-email, let me know. Send me your email address and I’ll add you to my SPAMster blacklist.

Spudmasher (Mobilize Mail Client)

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