Unsolicited commercial e-mail, shouting into thunder

There's a new certainty in life along with death and taxes....it's called Spam.

By and large we have all gotten used to spam and unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). Even if you buy or build the best filters, if you are at all active online you're going to get at least a few spam messages every day. It has become one of those things that you can't avoid, like death and taxes only more irritating.

The other day I got UCE from Paradise Chevrolet in California, a car dealer I had recently visited to have my wife's truck serviced. I called the sales guy named in the UCE and asked why they were spamming me. He pointed out I was a customer and the CAN SPAM Act allows for a company you've done business with to send you UCE.

I'd forgotten that loophole but I pointed out that, while that may be true, if they ever wanted to do business with me again they needed to take me off their list. I also left a voice mail for the manager and you would have thought he'd reply, but apparently I'm not important enough to call back. I guess they don't want my business.

Why do I bother? I would hate to think that I'm "shouting into thunder," but if we were to all sit back and just let this kind of behavior become the normal way business is done then what more egregious behaviors would we be opening the door to? For example, if there hadn't been a public outcry we would never have had the CAN SPAM Act at all, and while the act has done little to reduce spam in general it has at least nailed several of the biggest and worst offenders. Imagine a world where spam king Sanford Wallace could do what he pleased.

What I find particularly annoying is the number of IT companies that are using UCE and spam to further their goals. But the really bad commercial spam is where they try to fool you by making their message appear to be something it isn't, such as a private message misaddressed. When something like that comes from an IT company . . . words almost fail me.

I just got such a pitch from "Christian" though the e-mail address was really from freedesign@headwebmaster.com. The message, addressed to backspin@gibbs.com, read "I found this guy on craiglist and wanted to forward it to you. Hes doing free web site designs. Logo, layouts, everything for free. Like web design students or something. Anyways I got mine done for free finished in 2 days. Just email freedesign@headwebmaster.com and tell James you would like a free web design. Its up to ten pages for your site and the work is excellent. PS. i hope you didnt pay for it yet."

Of course I looked up headwebmaster.com and called. Lo and behold, James answered the phone, though he was cagey about who he was for the first few exchanges. Anyway, according to James, the company really is giving away free Web site designs (from the look of the templates they display you'll get what you pay for). I quite nicely asked whether their misleading message that pretended to be mis-addressed was paying off, but James got defensive and finally hung up on me saying he was in the process of eating lunch. Sad.

Now let's see: The message had no opt-out, had no physical street address and was misleading. It basically violated the CAN SPAM Act in at least three ways, and on top of that, James' reaction made it clear he knows what the company is doing is unethical and technically illegal. Who is so desperate or devious that they'd use such pathetic techniques to drum up business?

Here's the thing: Send me one CAN-SPAM-compliant pitch offering your goods and or services, and if I don't respond then assume I'm not interested and don't bother me again. But subscribe me to your wretched newsletter or send me intentionally misleading UCE that obviously shows that you harvested e-mail addresses from the Network World Web site and I will start dreaming of you burning in hell.

We all need to make an effort to let companies, particularly those in the IT business, know that we won't tolerate bad behavior. Or am I just shouting into thunder?

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Mark Gibbs

Network World
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