Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 8.02
February 2002






Download ATPM 8.02

Choose a format:

Apple Cider: Random Squeezings From a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Spam I Am

Recently, my family and I took a trip up to the northeast to visit our relatives. I find it hard to classify these trips as vacations, and this trip was no exception.

For example—we flew in to Baltimore/Washington International Airport and spent a few days with my sister-in-law, her husband and their kids. From there, we left Baltimore, drove 2.5 hours to Lewes, Delaware to catch a ferry to Cape May, New Jersey. In Cape May, we visited with my mom, my grandmother, and other relatives for a few days, then drove the length of the Garden State Parkway—all 4 hours of it—to visit my dad in northern New Jersey. Then, it was back to Baltimore—3.5 hours—to spend a night with my sister-in-law and company before flying back home.

Eight days and 780 miles on a rental car later, I was the happiest person on the plane to land back in Tampa. While it was great that we were so popular with our relatives that they all wanted to see us, traveling with two small kids in a rented Chevy Malibu was an experience I don’t want to relive anytime soon.

As if I thought I was popular up north, I had no concept about how popular I was going to feel when I got back home and checked my e-mail. My Hotmail account was approaching 1,600 messages, with about 1,450 from the same person asking if I wanted to lower my interest rate. In fact, after culling my in-box, I found a grand total of 40 messages that I wanted to look at. The other 1,560 messages were the dreaded S-word of the Internet—spam.

Back in 1997, the Internet Mail Consortium defined spam (a.k.a. Unauthorized Bulk E-mail or UBE) as:

E-mail that is sent to a group of recipients who have not requested it. A mail recipient may have at one time asked a sender for bulk e-mail, but then later asked that sender not to send any more e-mail or otherwise not have indicated a desire for such additional mail; hence any bulk e-mail sent after that request was received is also UBE.

Of course, for you Monty Python fans, the origin of the term spam is easily identifiable as one of their classic skits, in which a couple visiting a restaurant discover a common canned luncheon meat on the menu for each entree. Of course, whenever the term is used, the other patrons of the restaurant (a group of Vikings) began to sing the spam song, which drowns out the conversation between our guests and the waiter.

Fortunately, Hormel, the company that makes SPAM canned meat, has a sense of humor about the association between its product and unsolicited e-mail. In fact, the company goes as far as saying:

We do not object to use of this slang term to describe Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, although we do object to the use of our product image in association with that term. Also, if the term is to be used, it should be used in all lower-case letters to distinguish it from our trademark SPAM, which should be used with all uppercase letters.

Fair ’nuff.

What’s the big deal about spam anyway? After all, you have the option to delete your unwanted e-mails when you want to, right?

Sure you do, but there are also some tolls that spam takes which really do add up to genuine dollars.

First, the time it takes for a person to go through all of their e-mail is greatly increased when there is a volume of e-mail. While most spam is easy to find, some bulk e-mailers use very clever e-mail addresses or subject lines which can make the recipient believe that the unsolicited e-mail is something of value. That leads to more delay as those e-mails are opened, discovered to be solicitations, and subsequently deleted. Additionally, through reading each of these e-mail addresses and subject lines, the recipient may inadvertently delete important messages from their inbox, allowing for a miscommunication.

And, since the vast majority of folks out there pay for their Internet access, time is also money. If you have to spend time sorting through dozens or hundreds of unsolicited e-mails, it costs.

Spam also hampers participation in newsgroups and other discussion forums, as bulk e-mailers will often times glean their e-mail list from these sources. So, if you participate in a gardening forum, you may find yourself snowed under by spam.

And, when you receive unsolicited e-mail, you are hardly the targeted audience. My inbox typically contains subject lines from reduce your taxes to teenage girls want you! While there is a market out there for some of these services, it’s not at my house.

Some of these solicitations are also for shady or downright illegal activities as well. Obtaining prescription drugs without a doctor’s exam and a legitimate prescription is not only illegal, it’s also crazy.

And, if someone were to actually offer a product you wanted to purchase, would you trust giving your credit card information out to some business you don’t know? Keep that information private, and only trust companies you do the research on yourself.

Is spam a new type of problem? Hardly. A quick trip to your mailbox will show that it’s stuffed to the gills with unsolicited mail. Also, if you have ever tried to eat a peaceful dinner at home, no doubt you know about those annoying sales calls which can ruin the enjoyment of your meal. These annoying things are now a way of life, aren’t they?

Well, not exactly. For instance, say you wanted to be removed from mailing lists and phone lists. Did you know that if you live in the United States, you are entitled to the right to be removed from these calling and mailing lists?

By writing to the following address, you can have your name removed from mailing lists and dramatically reduce your junk mail:

Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

And, when you are pestered by telemarketers, you can write to another similar address to have your phone number removed from the list as well. That address is:

Telephone Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P. O. Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014

But what can you do about spam?

The first thing you can do is look at who provides your e-mail service, and see what types of unsolicited e-mail protection they offer. While not foolproof, this is a decent first step to take which could cut out a great deal of the spam you receive. Some e-mail providers offer customizable options, while others are significantly more automated.

Another thing you can do if you like to keep your primary e-mail account as spam-free as possible, is to set up an account which you use when you post to discussion boards and newsgroups. This way, you’ll have less traffic when you answer e-mails from your boss or your grandmother.

Another low-tech way to outsmart the spammers is to modify your e-mail address when you post somewhere. For instance, if I wanted to throw folks off the track, I might list my e-mail as This way, if someone wanted to reply to me, they could modify the e-mail address accordingly, and any bulk e-mailer would not make a successful connection.

Finally, you could blow the whistle on the spammer. If you know the domain name that the spammer is using (,,, you could make contact with that site’s administrator and alert them to the e-mail you are receiving. Unfortunately, this approach isn’t always successful, as bulk e-mail can often be relayed through several e-mail servers, causing you a great deal of difficulty in locating the original sender.

The Blacklist of Internet Advertisers offers some outstanding advice as to what steps you can take to rid your e-mail inbox of spam, and Spamcop has an excellent library of resources for reporting spammers and preventing unsolicited bulk e-mails from heading your way.

So, freshly back from our trip, I had to spend a few hours getting my e-mail account back into working order. Surprisingly, that was the most frustrating part of my trip—hands down. I just hope that in the future, my popularity fades a little bit.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (7)

James Arnold · February 3, 2002 - 14:58 EST #1
Hotmail allows you to turn off almost all spam. I don't think I have got any spam in weeks on my Hotmail account. You don't have to live with this. has an excellent bounce feature that allows you to send spam back to where it came from to make it look like it was not deliverable.
Robert Paul Leitao (ATPM Staff) · February 3, 2002 - 23:51 EST #2
James, I have my spam filter set very high in Entourage. It does occasionally catch legit mail. I check the hundreds of junk mail items every couple of days before deleting to be sure no legit mail is deleted before reading.

One way I've found to cut down on legit mail getting caught in the junk mail folder is to assign mail addresses of friends and associates to an e-mail inbox. This takes time to set up, but it has been worth the effort.

Still, I sometimes have to check the junk mail folder for correspondence through those obnoxious, free, web-based e-mail services. Maybe having an address like yazoo@yahoo might seem funny to some, but I had hoped that novelty would have worn off by now like it did years ago for "funny" message machine messages.

Most often those "funny" named accounts end up in the junk mail folder.

Tom Iovino (ATPM Staff) · February 4, 2002 - 09:41 EST #3
Yeah! What he said! Those e-mail messages I received came even with my spam filter on. The funniest thing is that some e-mails I'm waiting for actually get tossed into the Junk Mail folder. I have to be on my guard to ensure I don't delete something I need.
Jesper Oersted · February 4, 2002 - 18:20 EST #4
I still get a ton of spam on my Hotmail account, even though I have turned the spam filter on and made 36 custumized filters to get rid of it. I just cleaned out 10 spam mails from my Hotmail mailbox today. I am underwhelmed by Hotmail's dedication to fight spam.
Scott Mansfield · February 28, 2002 - 16:12 EST #5
Another source of addresses for spammers is web pages. I'm sure you've heard the term "harvester" used before? Placing an unspamproofed address (like you did in the article) is inviting even more spam.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · March 2, 2002 - 14:27 EST #6
You're absolutely right. However you aren't taking into consideration that the harvesters are being programmed smarter and smarter practically every day. It's to the point where you have to add something horrifically unique to your address to spamproof it. You put 'thephantom at mac dot com' as your e-mail address in your comment - but that's a pretty predictable syntax and harvesters would likely figure it out. Also stuff like 'dont-spam-me-myname-at-myhost-dot-com' can often be figured out by harvesters.

It's basically pretty useless to worry about it. One true thing, though, harvesters tend to pay attention to pages that have many addresses on it (especially if they're grouped together) a lot more so than just one or two addresses on a page.
Steve Smyth · June 23, 2007 - 22:48 EST #7
I know I am coming a little late to the party, but your comparison with spam emails and postal junk mail does not take into consideration the fact that while there is a lot of postal junk mail, the mailers pay for the privilege of getting that mail to you. It costs the spammer little more to send a message to a million than to a few. Also, spammers tend to hide their identities by bouncing email through more gateways than a normal targeted message would take, so these messages end up costing your ISP more in support costs and those costs are only going to get passed on to the consumer.

A few weeks ago, one of the largest spammers on the net was arrested under the federal "can spam" act, and we were all assured that our spam volume would decrease, and I have seen it in my Gmail, but not on my corporate account which is on an open POP/SMTP server.

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article