Spoutin' Off: E-mailed spam ads are like no ads at all
February 20 2006
After reading staff writer Joy Buchanan's piece on Wednesday last about a local auto dealership's use of a spam advertisement for a Valentine's Day special, I feel compelled to comment on a couple of the salient details.
First off, the gentleman from the dealership seemed genuinely unaware that by its very nature, the unsolicited advertisement he sent out was spam. I understand and take him at his word. While direct marketing is a method many buyers and sellers of products and services embrace, I think it's likely that many "old-school" salespeople, who have little knowledge of the nefarious proliferation of spam, are similarly unaware that professional spammers have made it an utterly useless and dishonorable method for marketing.
Let's examine the particular piece of spam in question.
As it turns out, I received copies of this advertisement in at least two of the accounts that I administer. In one case, the ad was sent to a dormant account from which no e-mail has ever been sent. The only way the spammer could have gotten this e-mail address was by "harvesting" e-mail addresses from the client's Web site. Next, all links on the page went back to the company that sent the spam, not the car dealership. Finally, the e-mail was run through a proxy server physically located in Vietnam in an attempt to mask its point of origin.
These are all practices employed by professional spammers. Other methods include purposely misspelling keywords that might be caught by filters and using bogus subject lines or sender names. There are others, not the least of which is the use of viruses that take over an individual system and turn it into a spam zombie.
In the case of the dealership, this ad was probably a waste of money because any e-mail server or client that employs either a Bayesian spam filter or a spam-blocking list would have prevented the ad from getting through. I purposely tried sending the dealership's ad through several different systems and it was blocked or filtered by every single one.
To the gentleman from the dealership, as well as to any other merchant contemplating a direct e-mail campaign, all I can say is "fuggetaboutit." It's a waste of money, it would likely garner extreme resentment from most recipients who actually got it, and while technically it might be barely legal, it's certainly considered to be ethically questionable.
Keep in mind that vocal critics - and there are many of us - are working hard to discourage everyone from responding to or even accepting the invasion of privacy represented by spam (take the Boulder Pledge!)
There are acceptable and conscientious ways to market online - this just isn't one of them.
The other aspect of the article that really boiled my shrimp was the allegations regarding Spamhaus and other maintainers of spam-blocking lists made by the purveyor of the particular spam in question.
Brian Kramer of Expedite Media Group, the distributor of the dealership's spam, is quoted in Ms. Buchanan's article as saying that Spamhaus and similar spam-blocking efforts "simply blackmail companies into paying to get off its list."
Wow - talk about gorilla dust.
Let's compare the nature of these operations (apples and oranges, I know, but bear with me.)
Spamhaus, a nonprofit organization based in England, is an all-volunteer effort, with what funding it needs provided largely by a consortium of ISPs that understand the damage and chaos created by professional spammers like Mr. Kramer. Under England's much-stricter laws governing online content, all the information posted on the Spamhaus Web site is culled from public records.
I have two criticisms to direct toward Spamhaus: The first is that much of the language they use to describe spamming operations is, in my opinion, unnecessarily inflammatory and unprofessional for such an organization to use.
My other concern is based on complaints I've found online. Some Internet content providers seem to have been legitimately suckered into becoming enablers for spammers. Spamhaus comes off as rather insensitive to this and not particularly proactive in helping those trying to clean up their operations to do so.
Having said this, let's take a look at Brian Kramer and Expedite Media Group.
The truth is, I can't. My friends here at the paper would have to give up the entire section for me to be able to describe the complexity and deviousness of this operation. But I strongly encourage you to read this stuff yourself.
The page on the Spamhaus site which describes Mr. Kramer's various and sundry enterprises (again, all gathered from public records) can be found at this link.
There, you'll find listings of the dozens of names, proxy servers and URLs operation functions (including Mr. Kramer's pornography distribution operation). If you like puzzles, unraveling this web of deceit is quite fascinating.
Take a look at Spamhaus, and then take a look at Expedite Media Group. You tell me which is trustworthy.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, visit http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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