Tag Archives: spam

The Economics of Spam

David H. Reilley, Jr. (Google Inc, formerly Yahoo!) and Justin M. Rao (Microsoft Research, formerly Yahoo!), have authored a paper on the Economics of Spam. It does a decent job of dissecting how and why spam “works”, and how various legislative initiatives such as the CAN-SPAM act in the US have had relatively little impact – that is, they haven’t helped reduce spam or make it less of a problem.

The full manuscript is available in PDF.

Spam is (overall) profitable for those who engage in it, even though the spam methods tend to be illegal. The things that are sold and the means of selling tend to be illegal anyway, so advertising in an illegal manner doesn’t really stretch their ethics or risk.

But more importantly, the authors estimate that society loses $100 for every $1 of profit to a spammer. This once again proves that not all economic activity is good. Regardless of profit, when the cost to society is that large, I would think it wise to not even get close to being involved with it in my business.

Many people don’t even realise that when they (for instance) purchase a list of email addresses they are likely breaking some local laws, and they may even make some money from it, but I think it’s just not right. If they, once informed, persist in using such marketing means, they lose all credibility with me. Unfortunately, many businesses to engage in spamming activities. Just choose to don’t be one of them.

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Spammer Selling Anti-spam Tools

Today I received an unsolicited email starting

“The email tsunami has swamped everyone, [product name] helps you clear the debris and pinpoint the messages you need.”

Ironic? To say the least. If you’re part of the problem and actively contributing to it, don’t try to sell me a solution. That’s just obnoxious. That company instantly disqualified itself from ever getting any business from me. There are always alternative offerings, so I vote with my feet&wallet.

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Upstarta Style Project: Hawkers Notice


For years I’ve had a notice at my front door, which has been very effective in warding off sales people and other unwanted stuff. Friends would comment on it, and so recently I  chased up the option of getting the sign printed.

Finding the right material wasn’t entirely straightforward, as since it’s outside it needs to be weatherproof. The solution turned out to be getting it printed on colorbond steel – that makes it a bit more costly, but it looks good and is definitely durable.

The sign is now available for pre-order at http://hawkersnotice.com/, with shipping available within Australia and to New Zealand, USA and Canada.

This idea neatly fits the Upstarta principles… a little niche market is identified and explored, essentially without up-front investment. It also addresses a key issue that many people have with sales techniques and spam.

The “limitation” on shipping destinations comes from the fact that the text mentions dollars, and of course (to a degree) the English language. A manufacturing run does cost, so there need to be sufficient orders to make that viable. That said, other editions are a future possibility.

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Spam selling contacts

From an email to my private address:

I hope you are the right person to talk about new companies interested in having business relationship with you.

If yes, then let me know the specific industry you are interested in, i will come back to you with a sample file of companies and their contacts with complete contact information such as business email, direct phone number etc of each executive.

These companies and contacts index can be used for your upcoming multi-marketing initiatives.

We also clean or append your inhouse marketing database. Just send me a minimum of 25-50 company names in an excel spreadsheet format, we will fill complete contact information such as e-mail address, phone, fax, mailing addresses etc. This way you can understand the quality of our service.
[…]
P.S.: If you want to stop receiving emails from us, please send a reply with the email subject line as “Leave Out”.

So many things wrong.

  1. Under the Spam Act 2003 (Australia) it is illegal to send, or cause to be sent, unsolicited commercial electronic messages. (see also the general info at ACMA)
  2. Offering contact lists. If not illegal (through your local legislation, or because of the way this company has acquired the info), it’s ethically dubious and use of such info would at the very least make you an originator of unsolicited contacts. Do you want to be such a company?
  3. “clean up and append your inhouse marketing database” – that’s a new one to me, makes it look all the more nice doesn’t it. So you give them your incomplete info, and they fill it in with their data. Doesn’t make it any more ethical though, or legal. You’d have to be very careful about what the origin of their data is, and how can you check?
  4. The opt-out clause. Sounds lovely but that’s not relevant to AU legislation. I shouldn’t have to exert any effort as they weren’t entitled to send me email to begin with. But even if it was legal, is it reasonable? You don’t really want to be part of and identified with that huge pile of junk emails that people find in their daily inbox, do you…

That’s why we have Upstarta principle#10: No spam. Not if you call it “email blast” either. Newsletter for clients is fine.

Spam may be “effective” in terms of being highly profitable compared to direct cost – but good business people care about more than just that.

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When every email looks like a lead

I received an unsolicited email from an Australian company, which is illegal as per the Australian 2003 Spam Act legislation. So I notified ACMA with the raw email details as they request, as well as notifying the sender. What happened next is unfortunately typical. Rough flow below…

The person who initially received my reply forwarded it to their business associate, who then emailed me telling more about his company’s products and asking to connect with me on LinkedIn to establish a business relationship.

I responded, noting it was a pity he didn’t actually read the email that was forwarded to him, and that I was not in the least bit interested in connecting with a company that neither listens nor respects others (or local laws), and merely pushes its wares.

He replied again, saying that he did listen but at the same time still plugging his goods. He told how he had acquired a database of email addresses. In addition he merely expressed sorrow that the initial mail offended me somehow, apparently not at all getting the point that it wasn’t about offense but about invalid business practices and breaching local laws.

I left it there as further correspondence was clearly futile. I believe the *only* valid reply would have been to unequivocally apologise, appreciate that using purchased email lists tends to put you on the wrong side of the law in Australia, and to not mention/plug his products anywhere in that email.

But, I suppose some people regard any communication as a sales lead. From my perspective, it’s a typical profile of the worst type of sales people, not the type I ever want to do business with. Clearly all they care for is the sale, not the client.

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