Spam imperialism

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We’ve all seen these, or a variation of these, on email subject lines. You probably receive anywhere from a few of these 'spams' per week, or perhaps dozens per day.

So I admit it. When I first read of an arrest made to a habitual spammer – a man sending over 100,000 pieces of porn spam mail in one month – I did smile with glee. It’s difficult not to glean some sort of satisfaction at the mental (albeit stereotypical) image of a guy in a dark, seedy bedroom or basement office, ready to hit Send on a bulk email to thousands of unsuspecting individuals, moments before officers burst into his dimly-lit abode and haul him away in handcuffs. These aren’t commercials on TV, pictures on billboards, or full-color ads in a magazine. Much like persistent telemarketers, spammers break through our porous private shield, literally forcing its nuisance onto us.

However, let’s not forget that market actions are ultimately driven by demand. As much as spammers are made to be the villains in our electronic society, let’s not forget that these email-happy individuals would be quiet as a mouse if not for the millions of dollars in revenue they cumulatively receive each year. When enough people behind a keyboard actually hit Reply to these ads, they make spammers' livelihoods worth the effort. When people believe in shady get-rich-quick employment scams on the Internet, it gives a spammer a reason to live.

Enacting laws on stopping unsolicited junk email is only a small band-aid that will be rather ineffective over time. There may be a small dip in email volume, but spammers will get increasingly sophisticated. And why not? The income they receive is enough incentive.

The ultimate culprit is the consumer. We can blame these basement-dwellers and curse every one of their thousands of emails promising sure-fire diet pills or (here's a rarity on the Internet) offering a website featuring 'hot girl-on-girl action'. But the real blame lies solely on those perpetuating its existence. The demand. If there's no market, there's no spam.

This brings to mind the anti-capitalists and intellectual elites overseas that decry the existence of an American fast-food chain or supermarket in their backyard, blaming "cultural imperialism" or "corporate invasion". As with email spam, no one is placing a gun to someone's head, forcing him or her to exchange currency for a Big Mac. Nor has Starbucks formed its own military, ready to occupy a small nation and subject its citizens with Frappacinos. The businesses are present because enough local consumers demand them and accept their presence.

After all, just a few days ago, Dodge (unfortunately?) announced it is pulling a pay-per-view Lingerie Show due to pressure from consumer groups and its own dealerships, fearing a financial and reputation backlash. No law or legislative action was necessary to prevent the broadcast. Dodge only responded to the market.

In closing, as long as people continue to digest spam, we will continue to see its materialization in our mailboxes.

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