The end of man is action, and not thought, though it be of the noblest.
- Carlyle, Scottish Author and Philosopher (1795-1881)
We all hate spam, in fact, I’ve heard there’s a new circle in hell that’s been built exclusively for spammers, but the history of spam is somewhat interesting to view from an evolutionary standpoint.
First off though, can someone please tell me how the hell I ended up on someone’s list as the kind of guy interested in woodworking plans? I get these emails like five times a day. It can’t be any more annoying than it must be for all the women receiving penis enlargement spam, but no, sorry, I’m not going to be whittling away on a flute any time soon.
There’s always the random chattle of spam, some of my favorites, an email I received a couple times which actually offered a “life experience degree.” How awesome is that? You don’t even have to go out into the real world any more, now you can receive a degree in life experience online! And if you’re naive enough to pay good money to “Buy degree online in just 14 days!” only to find out your degree is totally worthless, well then, there’s some life experience for you.
It’s partly because I only receive them two or three times a year, but I like the spam I get trying to sell me a forklift. There’s something cool about receiving an offer to buy a forklift. I can ease back in the chair a bit as I ponder it, “Yep, I just may need to get me one of those.”
It seems like I get a lot more mail-order bride spam these days . . . or is that because I’m just paying attention more? No, no, no, it’s definitely not that, definitely a lot more mail-order bride spam in the inbox lately.
I did a little research and found that the first spam email was sent via ARPAnet on May 3, 1978 pitching a DEC computer to a list some enterprising salesman had put together of 400 members of the 2600 member network. (How crazy is it to think you can trace back in time the fact that just 35 years ago, there were 2,600 computers all hooked up in the precursor to the Internet the same way about 2.5 billion of us are now connected today?)
My first memories of Internet spam were, the Nigerian scam letters, which I can remember actually reading through once or twice before they were ever known by their collective name and I can remember my curiosity shifting from “what is this email?” to “how the hell could anyone fall for this?”, and then there was the great spam triumverate of penis enlargement spam, Viagra spam and weight loss spam. I can remember there was a time when “Viagra” was simply written “Viagra” and then a bit later when “Viagra” became “v1agra” and “work from home” became “W0rk frØM H0mÈ” as the spammers tried to outsmart the spam filters. (The worst thing about spam filters and in general, anti-spam software, is that even the best combination of filters and heuristics is still going to nab some legitimate emails, meaning you’re still going to have to wade through that junk email folder regardless.)
I don’t seem to get any penis enlargement spam any more (I guess the word finally got out) and Viagra seems to have given way to more Prozac or OxyCodone. There have always been the knock-off watches and fake designer goods, but the Chinese keep cranking them out and the spam keeps coming, so someone must be buying that crap.
This is all my subjective experience (which is just about as close to empirical as you can get) but the funny thing is, in trying to find some stats on the Net, it’s hard to make sense of any of it, even if you compare the same company’s stats from the same website:
Spam by Category 2010
Spam by Category 2012
I like the way personal finance went from 3.4% to 77.77% in two years. Nice job, Kaspersky Labs.
In one chart that actually seems to hold out across different sources though, there is a bit of good news: global traffic percentage rates for spam are on the decline.
68% is definitely low for my inbox, but the overall trend is encouraging.
So how can you do your part to help stem the flow?
The rule for spam is the same rule that applies to email attachments: never, ever, ever click on a link from an unsolicited email. If you see one of those topsy-turvy upside-down hanging tomato plant offers that will start hitting your inbox around Spring and you feel like this year’s the year to give it a try, DON’T BE LAZY! Open your browser and type that product’s name in and go direct to the vendor! We need to starve those insidious spam-slinging monkeys.
Hope you enjoyed our little tour through the history of spam. Oh, looks like I have 57 new messages since I started this post. Time to go wade through the shit.