Friday, August 25, 2006

Spamalot

Oh, the wonders of the internet. Today I have crossed a new threshold. I have ascended to heights once unimaginable. I have amassed, in my spambox, over 4000 messages. (4007, to be exact.) In 30 days. How, you might ask, did I achieve such a feat? I honestly don't know. I don't click on things unfamiliar, I don't join unwanted mailing lists, and I don't even buy anything (of consequence) via the internet. What makes GreatNewCars.com think I need a new car? Why does LeanBodyCleanse want to know if my colon is making me fat? I have to admit, though, I was a bit intrigued by the idea of personalized M&M's.

I remember hearing about personalized ads, so one would only get spammed with things that might actually be interesting. What happened to that? (Are these actually ads, or are they PC viruses? I don't open them to find out, but let's work under the assumption that at least some of them are actual ads.) My hypothesis is that since emailing spam is free, there's no reason not to send it to everyone you possibly can, without restriction. If this is true, then we would expect that a small fee ($0.01/recipient/message) might stem the flow of spam emails.

How much would that cost me? My sent box contains almost 1100 threads, with (let's say) an average of 4 messages per thread. If I sent two of those, that means I've sent 2200 messages since I got my gmail account two years ago. So, 1100 messages a year, at $0.01 each, that's $11 a year. Not too bad, I think.

How much would that cost a spammer? I obviously don't know how many messages a spambot sends each year, but I can do some estimations. I've received 4000 in the last 30 days. To send that many messages at the same price, it would cost $4/month, or $48/year, not that much for a company that wants to sell fifteen hot ringtones. So maybe this plan won't work so well.

What about limiting the number of recipients per message? I've run into this problem as a TA: my school email account won't let me send messages to more than 15 or so people at a time, so I end up having to send two separate messages to the group. I inevitably miss someone. (Of course, this is now solved using email/gmail lists, which weren't in existence when I was TAing last year.) So maybe limiting the number of recipients isn't goo, because I can think of mass emails that I want to get (Ben's Appalachian trail updates, wedding announcements, etc.).

So how about limiting the number of outgoing messages? If I could only send 2000 messages a year, I think that would be ok with me. If a spammer could only send 2000 messages a year, it would have to keep getting new email addresses each week. That's possible, of course, unless you also limit the number of email addresses available. This is starting to get complicated.

Clearly, I have no clue how spamming works. But the good thing is that I don't have to know. I don't have to worry about it, and I don't have to limit the number of emails I send or the number of email accounts I have. It's all free, and it's mostly unregulated. My email program is smart enough to filter most of the spam so I don't even have to pay attention to it. I only know it's there because I see that number growing, now up to 4009 messages (I've received two since I started writing), and I can delete them with a click of my mouse. It's all that easy. So no biggie deal.

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