Hated mail

Net users loathe it. Marketing companies love it. David Fox looks at the relentless spread of `spam' (aka junk e-mail)

Electronic mail is the ultimate marketing tool. It's cheap, fast and the recipients are wealthier than average. This is why Internet users increasingly have to cope with junk e-mails for everything from dubious shares to virtual girlfriends.

Where sending junk mail by post costs at least 50p per letter, including postage and printing, Internet advertisers can send a million e-mails for a few hundred pounds in connection costs.

The Internet community has traditionally fought junk e-mail or "spamming" (from the famous Monty Python sketch "spam, spam, spam and spam") by "flaming" the sender - inundating them with hateful e-mails. When the lawyers Cantor and Siegal famously blanketed Usenet newsgroups in 1994 with ads for helping people obtain US citizenship, the huge number of "flames" protesting against this caused their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to close the account. But this kind of response is less effective against today's sophisticated spammers who often leave false trails.

The most prominent bulk e-mailer is Cyber Promotions. It has 5,000-plus clients and sends out up to three million e-mails a day. When America Online blocked it from sending e-mail to its subscribers, Cyber Promotions sued. AOL eventually won on appeal and now blocks any domain that gets more than 50 complaints, "although some domains change their addresses," says Jonathan Bulkeley, AOL UK's managing director.

The Independent tried to contact Sanford Wallace, Cyber Promotions' president, but e-mails to him went unanswered or proved undeliverable to the many addresses the company gives on its spams. A posting he sent to a newsgroup, however, gives his reason for targeting the big online services: "The only market that accepts UCE [unsolicited commercial e-mail] as a whole are newbies [new Net users] who do not share the same viewpoints of the traditional netizen's netiquette. That's why we are fighting so hard for the right to send to AOL members."

Among the domains AOL banned were netfree.com, which sells the Floodgate bulk e-mailing software, honeys.com, which offered a live video feed of Las Vegas strippers, and three of the domains Cyber Promotions uses: cyberpromo.com, answerme.com and servint.com. Some of the ISPs involved protested that they were being unfairly hurt for providing their customers with a service, just as AOL does. Indeed, AOL addresses are the source of many of the 50 or so junk e-mails I receive each month on one of my CompuServe accounts (the other is largely unaffected and I've only received one junk e-mail on my AOL account).

AOL says it shuts down any account against which there are a lot of complaints, or which invalidates its terms of service, including those that send offensive e-mails. But as the largest online service it protests that it is difficult for it to stop people sending junk e-mail from its addresses.

Mr Bulkeley says he gets about 10 junk e-mails a day and hates it, but believes "the power of the medium is also the downfall of the medium. It allows people to communicate openly and freely. That's wonderful, except when it's inappropriate, but that's where [AOL's new] mail controls come in." These controls now allow members to opt out of receiving mail from any domains, or even only to accept mail from certain addresses.

David Furness, sales and marketing director for Netcom, the world's largest ISP, says he believes similar mail controls will be built into Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4 and, possibly, Netscape Navigator 4. And if they aren't, Netcom is looking at adding them itself. However, he doesn't feel the UK is being hit by the "kind of blanket e-mail we see in the US". But he points out that anyone can send a global e-mail to all addresses at almost any domain name using a "wildcard" facility, which can post to every possible combination of letters or numbers.

Netcom doesn't sell its subscriber lists and Mr Furness believes the Data Protection Act would prevent it from doing so in the UK, unless it gave users the ability to opt out. However, that has to be tested in court as the Act doesn't specifically mention e-mail.

CompuServe's Matthew Greenslade also says it hasn't had many complaints about spamming. If someone complains (to abuse@compuserve.com), he says, "we have got a number of things we can do", but he won't say what for fear that the spammers might find a way around them.

He denies CompuServe sells its e-mail addresses, but the only junk e- mail to reach both of my CompuServe accounts was from Tesco, promoting a home-shopping trial. It had got the addresses from CompuServe and even knew where I was living. One other spam did arrive from a UK address (UK Online), but digging deeper revealed it originated at frship@answerme.com - a Cyber Promotions address.

There is considerable divergence on the Net itself about spamming. Those who have been online longest generally hate it. But most put up with it. In one recent newsgroup thread, Bob Schmidt of Provider Marketing Group in Florida wrote: "If Internet users hate unsolicited e-mail on principal to the degree that they do not buy in sufficient numbers to make the mailing a failure, then mailers will not continue to mail." Therefore, junk e- mail should fade away. If, however, enough recipients follow the example of other direct-marketing efforts, the mailings will be a success, no matter how adamant the anti-spammers are.

James McMullen, an Internet consultant, thinks that however much we might dislike spamming, it will grow, especially once firms can get their hands on classified lists of e-mail users so that they can define their target market properly (which might at least diminish the tide of American junk e-mail that washes up on British computers).

"When those list companies do get enough data to entice the big marketers, you'll be hit with a tidal wave of direct e-mail, no matter how many nasty reply messages they get," he says n

Forwarded message:

Subj: Virtual Friends

Date: 96-10-04 02:38:41 EDT

From: Friends594

To: Friends594

Now available for both IBM and MACINTOSH. MONEY BACK GUARANTEE

The Virtual Girlfriend and Virtual Boyfriend are artificial intelligence programs for your IBM PC or compatible and also for MACINTOSH. You can watch them, talk to them, ask them questions, tell them secrets, and relate with them. Watch them as you ask them to take off different clothes and guide them through many different activities.

Watch and participate in the hottest sexual activities available on computer, including: several sexual positions, using many unique toys, even bringing in multiple partners. This is no doubt one of the most realistic, sexually stimulating computer games available. They will remember your name, birthday, your likes and your dislikes. Every time you start the program, they say different things, and act differently. Each time, they have a different personality. With the VGA digital graphics, The Virtual Girlfriend and Virtual

Sender: 800-209-5600@connect.com

Subject: Make Money Now

Priority: normal

****** Biggest Marketing Secret Revealed ******

****** 2 Million E-Mail Addresses $49.95 *****

Don't be fooled by these people telling you that you need Floodgate to send bulk mail- it's a lie. Floodgate only extracts the addresses. That can be VERY time consuming. They make it sound so easy, and when in reality, it's not. I'll put it this way- to even get one million e- mail addresses with Floodgate, it would take you at least 6 months.

You may ask yourself, "How can he get so many addresses?" I have been marketing on the internet for one year now. I trade e-mail databases with many people, plus I have several other sources which I obtain them from. Have you been looking for the best way to promote your business, product or service, and get results FAST? I have the answer- BULK E-Mailing!

There are other SO-CALLED companies that will claim to

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before