Archive for 2012

spam

Do you know what I hate? It’s people who think they have the right to send me advertisements, by whatever means, without my agreement. At home, I’ve conveniently places the trash can between the stairs and the mailbox, so that I can chuck the useless junk after retrieving it. Every day I seem to throw out handfuls of paper, and I’m sure that more than a few trees have seen the inside of that trash can.

Telemarketing has gotten so obscenely out-of-hand that I now pay six bucks a month to the phone company for caller ID, and another six bucks a month for their “privacy manager” package. This forces anyone who has suppressed their caller ID to explain who they are before a call is accepted. That still didn’t do the trick, so I have even resorted to forwarding all phone calls to voicemail – if we want to talk to you we’ll call you back.

I am sure to open a newly purchased video near the trash can, so the half-a-dozen advertisements inserted inside can be immediately disposed of. I’ve noticed that even credit card bills seem to be including wads of paper begging me to purchase still more useless junk, and even my store receipts are covered with, of all things, ads for maxi-pads.

Watch a movie on any standard television station and you’ll soon discover that, in most instances, large chunks of plot have been hacked out. Not for reasons of protecting us from violence or bad words or whatever, but so that two hours of film can be reduced to 90 minutes, in order for advertisements to be inserted.

How much advertising does a household need?

Apparently still more is needed, because my wife and I receive easily a thousands or more emails a DAY demanding that we purchase something, explaining how we can receive millions of dollars for no effort or thrilling us with the possibility of increasing the size of various body parts. If we didn’t have excellent spam filters we simply would have to abandon email entirely.

In point of fact, surfing the internet without a popup-stopper and ad remover has become so pain as to be impossible. The number of banners, pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials, animations and other ways of begging us to purchase things as we surf has reached epidemic proportions. Instant messaging has become painful (especially with the more popular services) due to the amount of spam messages, and there are even viruses and spyware programs which can add even more advertisements to your desktop.

The problem of junk email has grown to the point where it is beyond a simple annoyance. In fact, spam is quickly becoming one of the top concerns of Americans, possibly even higher than concerns about terrorism. After all, a terrorist doesn’t bomb your email box every single hour of every single day.

It’s gotten so out-of-hand that people are demanding that things be done. Blacklists have been set up which make it difficult for anyone whose server has been used for spamming to remain in operation. New laws are being passed and discussed, and committees are being started as we speak.

People have now begun doing irrational things to prevent the horror known as spam. They are complaining to their ISPs, demanding that something, anything be done. They are allowing silly laws to be passed which reduce their own constitutional rights. They are putting up with all manner of filters between them and the internet to keep those unwanted messages from their inboxes.

The level of fear among various service providers has gotten so bad that many “zero tolerance” policies are now being written into terms and conditions. Accounts are canceled willy-nilly without so much as an investigation – better to lose one customer (or a few hundred) who is innocent than to take the huge potential risk of being known as a spam haven.

In fact, I used to run several email newsletters. For the last couple of years I happily sent out my newsletters to about two thousand people, all of whom who had requested that they receive this information. Every single one of these subscribers had to not only enter their email address into a form, they had to return a message proving that it was indeed them who requested the subscription. This is known as a “double-opt-in” list, and it’s very foolproof. Very few subscribers (if any) can be added accidentally.

Until I started getting some strange complaints about spamming. It seems that Getresponse.com has a form where people can enter complaints about protential spamming. Someone entered an email that they received from my newsletter service which they claimed was spam.

Well, it wasn’t. In fact, it was the email message that is automatically sent to people when they sign up. This email must be responded to in some manner to prove that they actually want to subscribe.

This is not spam – this is a method to prevent spam.

Getresponse, in their infinite wisdom, simply forwarded this message to me with a link to their anti-spam policy. The amount of thought put into this by Getreponse was obviously zero, as the report was plainly made by a complete bonehead who didn’t even take a second to read the message. They merely forwarded it to me with their little note without even reading it. If they had, they would have discarded the report as silly and stupid.

Well, it was actually fortunate as I now actually did take a look at the anti-spam policy. Here it is:

We love internet commerce, and we hope our service will make it easier for everybody, but we will absolutely, positively not tolerate spam using our services.

You may never spam via our service or send spam that in any way implicates our services. This includes mentioning a GetResponse.com email address or URL in a bulk message or including these addresses on a bulk-advertised web page. You may not hide behind throwaway web pages or fax-response front ends.

If you spam, even if GetResponse.com services are not directly involved in it (i.e. the spam leads the person to GetResponse.com services), you will:

have your account terminated immediately without refund and notice
charged a $500 cleanup fee
be reported to your own provider by us as a spammer, where they will presumably terminate your account as well.
be reported to authorities
“Terminated immediately without refund and notice”, “$500 cleanup fee” and so on. I thought long and hard about this, then spent a few hours looking around at other terms of services. I quickly became aware that the world was becoming very hostile to email newsletters.

So to those of you who miss my newsletters – I have stopped sending them. The risk is too great. I have no desire to be labeled as something that I am not, and I do not wish to be defending myself from boneheads who are too stupid to understand the different between spam and a valid double-opt-in confirmation request.

Email Etiquette

Sender Etiquette

1. The subject line is all important. Please make your subject pertinent to what’s actually within the email. There is very little worse than dozens of “IMPORTANT” subjects. Besides most email programs allow you to specify the importance of the message as a flag, so the IMPORTANT is not really necessary.
2. Keep your message short and to the point. Shorter is virtually always better.
3. Link to outside information. This is the internet. So rather than including the entire article in your email, pictures and all, just put in a link. It’s easier on my inbox and much quicker to download.
4. Stay on topic. If you want to discuss two different issues it might be better to send two emails, especially if the email is being sent to a lot of people. That way you can also send only the information necessary to each group of people.
5. Watch your attachment size. Some people are still on dialup connections, and getting a one megabyte attachment can be very annoying. For very large attachment you might use a service like Xdrive or Freedrive to store the attachment and include a link in your email.
6. Signatures are cool. Four to seven lines is fine. Links are fine, but it’s tacky to include affiliate and pay-to-surf programs (not to mention some spam filters will delete your message). Please no images or HTML.
7. Use the importance flag. Most email programs allow you to set the importance of the email and this is far more useful than saying “IMPORTANT” or “CRITICAL” in the message line.
8. Use “Bcc” (Blind Carbon Copy). This is an excellent way to send to lots of people without giving out all of your friends email addresses to everyone on the planet.

Reply Etiquette

1. Be careful with the REPLY ALL option. I’ve found that sometimes, especially in the corporate world, people send emails to way too many people. This seems to be a sort of “cover your butt” approach which leads to people getting emails they do not need. Just be sure and edit the list to only those people who actually need the reply.
2. Be very cautious when replying to a distribution list. Not everyone on the list wants to get dozens of “rotfl” and “thanks” messages.
3. Change the reply subject. If you are adding additional information to an email, it might be useful to change the subject. So instead of “re: IMPORTANT” you might change it to “My comments on your message” or something like that.
Receiver Etiquette
1. Only subscribe to those newsletters which you actually read. Otherwise, you are just sending useless data over the internet, which increases communications and server loads for no good reason.
2. Reply in a reasonable time frame. Giving a reply of “sure” for a message that you received six months ago is not very useful. A week is probably the longest for non-critical messages. If you are going to take longer than a week, it may be best not to reply at all.
3. Take advantage of autoresponders. For things like guestbook entries, email forms, contests and so on, nothing beats an autoresponder to take some of the load of sending an acknowledgement back to the sender. This makes it very easy for you and lets the sender know that you at least got the message.
4. Don’t flame. I know exactly where you’d like to tell that person to go, but resist the temptation. Flame wars are not pretty.