See Web spam
and spam phone call
Email that is not requested. Also called "junk email," "gray mail," "unsolicited commercial email" (UCE) and "unsolicited bulk email" (UBE), the term is both a noun (the email message) and a verb (to send it). Spam is used to advertise products or to broadcast political or social commentary.
The term was coined from a Monty Python comedy sketch (see image below). Spam is also known to mean "sales promotional advertising mail" or "simultaneously posted advertising message."
A Social Plague
Like viruses, spam is a scourge on the Internet as billions of unwanted messages are transmitted daily. Unfortunately, as an advertising medium, spam produces results (see "Why Do They Do It" below). In order to reduce spam for their customers, ISPs have added many servers that do only filtering (see spam filter
and spam account
). Unsolicited phone calls are another form of spam and perhaps even more of a nuisance (see robocall
On January 1, 2004, the CAN-SPAM act became law in the U.S., which provides severe penalties for spammers, if they can be located (see CAN-SPAM
). See image spam
, mobile phone spam
, form spam
, mail bomb
, Joe Job
, letter bomb
, Blacklist of Internet Advertisers
, spam relay
, spam trap
, rogue site
Why Do They Do It?
Simple math. Suppose that out of 4,000 spam messages, one person buys something, and the spammer makes a dollar. If two million spams were sent that day, the spammer made $500, and the job took a half hour to set up. A few hours per week could yield $100,000 annually... enough incentive for techie teenagers? Of course, consistent revenue is not guaranteed, but there is ample motivation.
Filters Create Even More Spam
As spam filtering becomes more sophisticated, spammers send even more email to make the same profit. Email address lists can be hijacked or purchased for very little. There is a thriving business selling lists to spammers as well as lists of compromised computers (see zombie
). There are even spam service providers that will do all the work (gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit!).
Easy to Rationalize
Spammers justify their existence by citing the huge amount of junk mail sent via the postal system, wasting trees and other resources. They also claim advertisers have been polluting the environment with radio, TV and billboard ads for decades. Nevertheless, a standard for authenticating email could eliminate most spam. Unfortunately, that is a huge project to implement worldwide (see email authentication
From the Horse's Mouth
This 2004 book was written by a spammer, known only to readers as "Spammer-X." For insights into the minds of real people who spam for a living and how they do it, read "Inside the SPAM Cartel."
The Derivation of the Word
In 1970, a Monty Python sketch depicted a restaurant that included Hormel's spiced meat in every dish. In England in World War II, SPAM was always available while other foods were rationed. Spelled upper case, SPAM is Hormel's trademark.