The Business of Canning Spam – Educate the Masses

Thanks to Esther Schindler (via Twitter), I read a fascinating article in that presented a rare look into the business of spam. The article details the case against Adam Sweaney, a man who it is alleged made more than $1 million spamming. Among the picture it paints includes the fact that:

“Sweaney said he earned about US$2,500 a month for a couple of years selling botnets that could be used for a variety of activities including sending spam e-mails. He didn’t even write them himself, but he traded or bought them in online forums, he said.”

The article is a worthy and fascinating read, but I am a guy — and am physiologically incapable of reading about a problem without offering a solution. It’s been bumping around in my head for some time, and this article triggered my brain to write it. Thanks, Esther.

The e-marketer newsletter, quoting SpamHaus, makes the point for me:

“Spam will continue to be a problem for as long as some businesses see some value in it. According to recent news reports, a well-organized spammer can send between 60 and 70 million e-mails a day (two billion a month). On average, there is a positive response to 0.05% of those e-mails, potentially delivering 36,000 e-mail leads per day to the companies that use spam.”

The is no precise figure that I can come up with, but an incredibly dated report from the University of Maryland put the annual cost to businesses at about $22 billion. That’s serious.

The CAN SPAM Act was a joke because, as the CIO article notes, most of the “serious” spammers are impossible to detect and many operate offshore. So the time that we spent writing and passing the bill in Congress a) did nothing to reduce the quantity of spam emails that I receive (about 1,500 per week) and b) we have really only caught one “big fish,” Robert Alan Soloway.

To me, the only way to make spam go away is to spend money on educating the public not to click on messages that they don’t recognize. It’s pretty simple: remove the incentive for the spammers and their customers, the business dries up and these scumbags go away.

I’m pretty convinced that government is incapable of handling the problem and spammers are clever enough to stay one step ahead of the spam filters, but if spam is costing businesses and ISPs BILLIONS of dollars, why not come up with a three-year, public awareness campaign to educate computer users about what spam is, how it is more than just an annoyance and much, like your annoying sibling, if you ignore it, it will just go away. If you throw in some scare tactics like viruses and malware, people will listen up.

The irony is that email as a tool to reach and educate computer users is out of the question, but think how many people responded to the “Do Not Call” list when it came out. People were ticked off and found a way out (I know, I know, it was government), but I think that a good mix of earned and paid media (print, TV, op-eds, summits, blogs, coalitions, over a sustained period of time, could remove the demand, evaporate the customers and dry up the money.

C’mon ISPs. C’mon large, private employers who are spending money fighting this. Put just a couple of billion into a campaign to make consumers smart and save a lot over the long run.


P.S. – You’ll note that on the “contact” page of this blog, I have a s-p-e-l-l-e-d out version of a Gmail address. My primary ISP is Verizon, but I filter all of my email addressed through Gmail. Verizon caved like cowering sheep to a class action lawsuit because they were filtering “legitimate” email, probably from Nigerian royalty.



  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. Spam isn’t worth anything if people aren’t clicking on those links and buying their wares.

    I have yet to meet anyone who actually follows those links, but maybe the people I hang around with are a different breed of human? I dunno.

    Anyway, cheap shots against people who click on spam aside…education is a very powerful tool and it certainly would be nice to dry up the market for these unsolicited messages.

  2. Jonathan,

    Thanks so much for reading and providing your comments. We both agree that the way to make it go away is to remove the demand.

    In past jobs, I have worked to develop a lot of coalitions, and have seen much done in terms of raising public awareness that would fall below the probably $30 billion a year it costs businesses and computer users.

    Thanks again for reading.


  3. I agree, public education would be key. However, when former members of Congress are getting caught up in the schemes, I’m not sure what the answer is…

    Anything is worth a shot at this point!


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