I’ve found when people discuss spam they really have no idea what they aretalking about. There are as many different definitions of spam as there arepeople. In point of fact, this factor alone (not being able to define whatspam is and what it consists of) makes it virtually impossible to control. In order to control spam, a useful definition is necessary. Why? Simple. Inorder to control something, you must know what you are controlling.
Whenyou understand the basic facts, then you can take whatever course of actionis necessary. Until you achieve that understanding, you will be shootingblindly at an undefined target. This makes it very difficult to actually doanything useful. So on that note, what kind of definitions for spam work and don’t work?Commonly spam is defined as unsolicited email. Unfortunately, thisdefinition by itself is NOT spam and means absolutely nothing. What’s wrongwith it? This definition does not help you solve the problem, and thus isincorrect.
If this definition was true, then to prevent spam you would haveto somehow contact a person to ask them if you could send them an email. For example, I don’t generally call someone on the phone and ask them foran email message. That would be silly. In fact, by definition most email isunsolicited; I don’t, for example, expect my wife or a friend to ask me ifit’s okay to send me a message. Sometimes spam is defined as emails that are from unknown sources.
Hmm. This really doesn’t work well either. I’ll get emails from my website frompeople I don’t know – these are not spam. Also, sometimes my friends willpass my email address to their friends, who send me email. These are alsonot spam, even though they were from an unknown source and wereunsolicited.
How about just plain annoying emails? That seems to be the definition thatmost people have in mind when they mention spam. If the email is annoyingin some manner, and especially if it was unsolicited, it is spam. Thisdefinition probably gets a little closer to the heart of the matter, but itreally doesn’t define spam well. What about unsolicited bulk email? This definition gets a little bit closerbut it still doesn’t really define spam well. I mean I give my emailaddress to my bank and I really didn’t ask them to send me emails (althoughI didn’t ask them not to as well). Yet I would not call this spam as I dobusiness with the bank.
Their emails might be annoying, but since I have abusiness relationship with the bank I expect them to communicate with meoccasionally. Okay, so what is spam?I like to think of spam as “unethical mass email”. By this I mean emailswhich violate the netiquette standards of the majority of users of theinternet. Note that by this definition, an individual email sent to a person is notspam.
A commercial email, however, is another matter. Even a singlecommercial email might be unethical if it does not follow the rules below. Ethical emails are targeted well towards their audience. Unethical emailsare mass mailings sent out blindly to a large number of people. These are emails that are sent to thousands, tens of thousands, evenmillions of people, hoping against hope that a few dozen will be stupid orgreedy enough to respond. These emails are untargeted and will not pertainto the majority of the recipients.
Since the majority of the people readingthe message (usually upwards of 99%) will simply delete it immediately,this makes the mailing unethical. Ethical email messages include valid email header information. Thisinformation properly identifies the sender of the message. In addition, allof the other header data in the message is correct. Spam messages often have forged or invalid email headers.
This means it isdifficult (if not virtually impossible) to trace the source of the emailbased upon the header information within the email message. Since thesender of the message cannot be identified the message is unethical. Inthis case, even a single email message would count as spam. Ethical mailings include a method for opting out which actually works. If you run a newsletter or do any kind of mass mailing, you must include atleast one method of removal in the email message itself.
This removalmethod (and more than one is preferable) MUST WORK. Some things which Ioften see in opt-out schemes which ARE NOT VALID include the following: . Any email message which states that the reader must go to a web site,log in and then modify his email preferences is UNETHICAL. Thisrequires too much information from the user and forces him to do toomuch work.
. If the email message includes an unsubscribe link (or other means)which does not work, then it is UNETHICAL. . Messages which validly allow for opt-out but then say “you will beremoved in a week” or some other long period of time are UNETHICAL. These are computers people, and there is no reason to include theselong delays.
Remove the person immediately. Ethical mass mailings are double-opt-in. This means after a person signs upfor the mailing list, he receives a confirmation message. He must eitherreply to this message or click a link to activate the mailings to him. Anyother form of opt-in is UNETHICAL as it allows people to be subscribed byothers or by accident.
Ethical mailings do not include webbugs, set cookies or perform any kind ofinvoluntary tracking. Email messages are often opened up by the recipient before he knowsanything about the message. This means if you are doing any kind oftracking, the person has no way to stop it, short of blocking the receiptof the message entirely. This lack of a choice on the part of the recipientmakes this kind of tracking UNETHICAL.
These email addresses aregenerally included on web sites to allow individuals to communicate withindividuals. Rarely is the intention to join a mass mailing listdistributed on CD. ALL USES OF EMAIL HARVESTING IS UNETHICAL. Ethical mailers do not take advantage of open relays or use other “spammertricks”.
If you are legitimate, then there is no need to attempt to hideyour whereabouts or cover your tracks. Using a relay without permission orsending millions of emails through an unprotected formmail script is simplybad manners. Get the idea? Spamming is NOT sending someone one or more email messageswithout their express permission. Spamming is simply ignoring the rights ofothers (your audience, system administrators and even the users of theinternet as a whole). That’s all it is.