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What is Spam?

Updated on March 30, 2011

Spam – provided that you haven’t stumbled upon this article on the processed canned food forum – is unsolicited bulk messages which are put out online without any real attempt to reach a target audience being made.  In 2011 it is estimated that there will be up to seven trillion spammed messages sent mainly to email addresses, but also mobile phone messaging, online chat messaging and social network sites. Spamming might seem like an irritating but trivial inconvenience, but actually poses an incredibly serious problem to internet users and is estimated to cost between $15 and $20 billion USD each year, a cost pushed onto them by providers and organisations who spend the billions in an ongoing battle against the spammers.  Spam is also used by unscrupulous spammers as a vehicle for viruses and malware which can infect recipient computers; however protection under law on the case of spam remains surprisingly lax.

Spam is produced and used as a marketing ploy because it is extremely low in terms of cost to get a message out when compared with taking adverts on web pages. It takes just one click in as many as 15,000,000 automatically generated emails in order to make the cost-benefit worthwhile – dependent on which product the spammer is trying to sell.  Protected under freedom of information legislation in many countries and being difficult to prosecute due to the secretive nature of the providers, many of the worst spammers can get away with making big profits through an enterprise which is essentially illegal.  Most national law enforcement agencies have small bodies set up for dealing with spam and other internet threats. Private organisations such as the Spamhaus Project also do their bit to classify the “worst” spammer in the world and bring them to the attention of the authorities. Spamhaus reckons that the majority of the spammers in the top ten list are from Russia and Eastern Europe with most sending tens of millions of spam emails per day and making big money from their illegal enterprise.

The original spam

Perhaps the most amusing thing about spam – apart from the outrageous claims as to increased penis length contained within most emails – is the origin of the term. “Spam” comes from a Monty Python sketch whereby the only thing available is spam (a canned meat, associated with blandness) on a cafe menu. The inference being that spam emails are bland and abundant. The sketch of the irreverent humour of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is shown below:

Internet spam took over from the more archaic chain letter which was used to attempt to lure recipients into buying products from indiscriminately sent junk mail.  The first major case of spamming was in 1994 where information on American immigration services were sent to thousands of recipients.  From here it has grown into the major problem that it is today.  Despite increased lawsuits to help combat spam, it doesn’t look like a problem that’s going to go away any time soon because of its appealing cost-benefit analysis – and will doubtlessly continue to go on costing internet users for years to come.   


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    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Great Hub! I can't believe the astounding numbers regarding the use of SPAM on the web! It is ridiculous! Very interesting stuff! I wrote a Hub on a different kind of SPAM; the word itself and it's uses. Here's a link if you are interested:

      Great job on this Hub!