Chapter 2: How Spam Works

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The Business of Spam

Since the dawn of media, advertising has had a direct effect on increasing sales figures. This is usually accomplished by raising the awareness level of the general public about a certain product or service. Traditional mediums such as TV, print, and radio have been the norm for pushing a new idea or marketing campaign to the public. These mediums carry a high impact rate on the audience because of their strong visual and audio enticements, but also involve a costly price tag in both production and screening.

For an advertiser it’s all about audience impact—viewer eyes or ears focused on your piece of content—though strangely enough, advertisers now know that when a commercial break comes on, most people change the channel, go to the bathroom, or make coffee. What’s the point of buying advertising time if no one will be watching it? TV advertising has become a little different now, where companies or products “sponsor” a TV program, showing their logo every chance they can. Some companies have even opted for small subliminal ads hidden away in remote corners of the TV screen.

Marketing gurus know that you, the consumer, don’t watch commercials as much as you used to and are finding new ways of getting inside your head. But TV can only get so far; it’s limited greatly by country and demographics, and requires the watcher to be physically in front of the TV while the advertisement is played.

When the Internet became mainstream in the late 1990s, advertisers suddenly realized what they had in their hands. Unlike TV and radio, there was little cost to create and carry a piece of advertisement on the Internet. What’s more, the possible target audience was much greater than any prior medium. The Internet also possessed a new “vibe” to it, something hip and fresh that advertisers could really use to their advantage. In short, it was “cool” and every 20-something knew it.

In essence, this created the .com boom—the chance to sell a product or service to the world with little or no advertising costs. Of course, this idea was directly linked to earning huge sales figures. Well, for all intents and purposes, it didn’t turn out that way. But some interesting things did come out of the .com bubble, one of those being spam.

When compared with traditional advertising methods, the idea behind spam is ingenious. It was the perfect way to reach millions of people instantly, never to be limited by geography, time, or competing channels, and unlike telephone marketing, it didn’t require a huge work force or large investment. In fact, one person and a computer was generally all you needed. Its ease of use spawned hundreds of “online marketing” companies, the first of the real spammers, all of whom had great success.

E-mail was not designed with this abuse in mind. When spam first became popular (between 1996 and 1997) there was little defense against bulk mail—very few spam filters existed and even less people used them. The e-mail protocols seem to be designed with an idyllic Eden environment in mind; all parties trusted one another and welcomed any information exchange. This was easily exploitable by spammers and highly profitable.

In the beginning, almost all spam was pornography-related. Pornographic sites were some of the first highly successful sites on the Internet, so it only seemed natural that the concept of sex would be the first product to mass market across the Internet.

In early 2000, in what was then the peak of the .com era and before I became a spammer, I met a very interesting person, “Smith.” Smith was 21 years old and looking at retiring and moving back to his hometown of Denmark.

“Retire?” I said. “You’re only 21.”

He told me that over the last year alone he made over one and a half million U.S. dollars from spam and online marketing ventures. Companies were just giving away big money. I was astonished; most hardworking people worked 8 to 10 hours a day their entire life and never have a bank balance like that, while Smith sat at home with his feet up.

He had taken advantage of the over hyped .com boom at the right time. As you know, however, the old saying “What goes up must come down” was waiting in the wings. Sure enough, the .com bubble popped and with it sent a tidal wave of bankruptcies of Internet companies. Very few were left standing and many people were owed large amounts of money when these companies went under. Marketers found out that although Internet advertising had huge potential, it didn’t have the same impact as TV and a lot of people were still very hesitant about spending money on the Internet. It was all too new and saturated with companies trying to live the ”online dream.”. The public quickly came to realize just how much they hated spam and spammers.

Only a small percentage of people were responsible for sending spam in the beginning (pre-2000), even though there were no laws, terms, or anti-spam policies in place. However, by the year 2000, spam was a very popular method of profiting from the Internet and many people began sending very large amounts of it.

Between the years 2000 and 2001, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) all over the world enforced “No spam” policies, threatening to close any account found to be sending it. Online product vendors soon followed, enacting strict terms and conditions around product promotion. Software developers began to write anti-spam programs and plug-ins for mail servers.

The online community grew to hate spam and all those involved in sending it. Since that peak, it seems the Internet and its users have relaxed a little. Although spam is still hated, it is tolerated much more. Perhaps this is because we are all used to receiving so much of it that it has become a part of life. However, spammers still seem to be abhorred more now than before. To be a spammer now means to be the lowest of the low and draws great disgust from many people. This is the primary reason my real name is not on this book. I once sent spam, but that’s not all I am, and I refuse to be judged solely by the time I spent as a spammer.

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Inside the SPAM Cartel(c) Trade Secrets From the Dark Side
Inside the SPAM Cartel: By Spammer-X
ISBN: 1932266860
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 79

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