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Spam (Unsolicited Commercial E-mail)

Spam is the Internet’s equivalent of junk mail. Another term you may see is unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE).

Regardless of what you call it, it is wrong to send out massive numbers of e-mail in the hopes of selling something. It shifts the cost of you doing business to the recipients of your e-mail, to the companies that pass your e-mail along, and to your Internet Service Provider. If off-line business were conducted the same way, it would be illegal. The clearest example of this is the United States law that bans unsolcited faxes. A fax ties up the recipient’s phone line during transmission; and then wastes paper and toner or ink to print the fax out.

Can you imagine if you had to pay for each piece of junk mail that you receive? It is a very similar situation with e-mail.

What I have seen happening in the past couple of months is a rise in the amount of spam coming from outside the United States. Why in the world would an iron foundry in India try to sell customized lengths of pipes to several thousand (million more likely) Americans? Because the Indian citizen that was behind the mailing was an idiot. He (or she) got talked into doing this great thing for his (or her) business. If a small business in the United States sent out a piece of spam, the ISP that hosted that account would close the account so quickly your head will spin. But overseas, the novelty of the Internet has not worn off yet. So the overseas ISPs don’t care if you send out spam. I am close to rejecting all e-mail sent to me that has any hint of being from outside the United States.

During Christmas week a company based in Northern Virginia sent out spam. I talked with them (it was a local call, so why not?) about the spam and they “apologized.” They said the company they hired had assured them the list was an opt-in list. Of course, that company was also based in South Africa. I know the Internet allows for easy communications world-wide. But wouldn’t alarm bells go off if you had to contract with a business in South Africa to send out some advertising? Doesn’t that seem stupid to you as well?

Basically, the rule on the Internet should be “Do not send electronic mail out to anyone who has not already confirmed to you that they would like further information about your company.” Period.

I received an electronic greeting card a few months ago. The company is based in Canada, so the laws and standards of business etiquette are probably different, but what they did was unexcusable. According to their terms of service, the action of me going to their web site to view my card gave them permission to add my email address to their monthly newsletter. I don’t think so! So now if I am ever sent a card from that company I won’t be able to see it, because I do not want to be re-added to their newsletter list.

And that is why unsolicted commercial email is wrong. That one mistake this company made is going to forever influence my opinion of that company. The same thing has happened to other formerly reputable companies who have decided to send out unsolicited commercial email.