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12 April 1994: the first SPAM message sent on the Internet.

Spam (unsolicited email) was the invention of Laurence Canter and Martha Siegal.
They were lawyers and sent messages through Usenet (a news group).
They knew there were a lot of foreign IT workers in the US and they offered to help them get a "green card" (allows one to work in the USA).

They got business, but they were also castigated. Canter was even disbarred,
in part for this stunt. If they had not done it, someone else would have thought it up.

Spam or unsolicited email is enormous. Estimated vary widely, but AOL has calculated that 30% of all email is unsolicited. Well, what's the problem. Just delete it, right?

Wrong. Spam costs the sender next to nothing. However, that does not make it free. The messages have to be carried. One of the highest expenses of ISPs is bandwidth. If they are carrying a lot of junk mail, they (and you) are paying for it.

It also clogs the system, making it slower for everyone involved. It costs the recipient, who opens, read and trashes the spam. Estimates of the value of the loss of time run into hundreds of dollars a year per worker or other recipients.

Why is it called "spam?" Spam is a trademarked name of a canned meat product (see below). Unsolicited email was not named directly for the meat but for a famous Monty Python skit.

It takes place in a contemporary "greasy spoon" (dirty restaurant) and every menu item is something like "Spam, Spam, Spam, Eggs, Spam, Spam, and Spam." As a couple is trying to order, a table full of Vikings (Americans: that's Scandinavians, not the sports team) chants "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam" And that's what this unsolicited mail seems like.

What is happening is that inefficient businesses (those that could not make it on their own in the free marketplace) are passing their costs onto others. One can send out thousands, even millions of emails in a short time for practically nothing. It is the ISPs, the Internet network, and you who are paying.

One analogy is the scourge of junk fax mail a few years ago. For a few pennies per phone call an advertisement can be sent. The recipient not only loses time, but even has to pay for the paper. I was relieved when my fax machine died. It wasn't worth it.

Another is a company disposing of toxic chemicals by dumping them in a river. It is cheap for them, but costly and dangerous for everyone else. The economist Ronald Coase won a Nobel Prize for analyzing this sort of economic swindle.

Aside from the economic damage caused by spam, virtually all of it is promoting some sort of fraud. These include pyramid schemes, secret ideas to make $7000 a day, and rambling letters telling you that some African official will pay you millions if you just help them get some ill-gotten gains out of their country.

Just try getting off a spammer's list. Your opt-out email may be bounced back to you as undeliverable because they gave you a false address to opt-out of their mailing.

Actually, it might be good luck to have the email bounced back. One of the spammers' tricks is to harvest addresses from opt-out attempts and sell them at a premium because they can demonstrate that they are "live" addresses.

So, where did they get your address in the first place? If you have ever posted it on a web site, a chat line, or a news group you are doomed. That is why my address doesn't appear here and if you want to contact me initially you do it through "the Office."

Singing up with some newsletters or other offers can also do it. Some of these offers are just a means to get live email addresses. That's why you should read privacy policies, always assuming, of course, that you trust the web site that wrote the policy.

However they get your email address, it is easy to disseminate it. There is a small industry putting millions of addresses onto CDs. A spam sent to me not long ago offered a CD with 60 million email addresses.

It was selling for a mere $US 30. Knowing the death rate of email addresses, I figured that many of the addresses on the CD would be inactive. I wouldn't have bought it, anyway. is strictly against spam. If you get our e-newsletter, bEad-Mail you know that you always have the option to cancel. If you send us that little code at the bottom, we really do cancel you.

The Hormel meat packing company made the first canned meat product that needed no refrigeration in 1937. It was originally called "Hormel Spiced Ham."

As rivals began to imitate the product, the company decided that it needed a catchier name. They offered a prize of $100 for such a name and SPAM was born.

Hormel then launched an aggressive advertising campaign for "The Miracle Meat." In 1940 they introduced the first singing commercial (to the tune of the chorus of My Bonnie):

Hormel's new miracle meat in a can
Tastes fine, saves time.
If you want something grand ask for SPAM."

Sales took off during World War II. Pork wasn't rationed as beef was and armies appreciated that Spam needed no refrigeration. Krushchev attributed the Russian's army resistance of Hitler to the product.

Spam is not so popular now. Some people find it inherently funny. The "official Spam site" lists these names as suggested phrases that form the acronym "spam" (choose your favorite):

Spiced Ham (the correct one).
Specially Processed Army Meat.
Specially Processed Armadillo Meat.
Super Pink Artificial Meat.
Squirrel, Possum, And Mouse.
Silly People Ate More.
Salted Pork And More.

There is help on the way, but it will be slow in coming. For example, anyone sending spam to residents of California must put "ADV" (advertisement) in the subject line so that people can filter the email out. Spammers get around this by using "A D V" or "a.d.v." There is always someone who will circumvent any law,

What can you do about spam? One step you can take is to send an email to the ISP of the spammer with abuse as the name. For example, abuse@hotmail will alert Hotmail to the spam (they are supposed to be very aggressive about it).

There are several sites that will help. is attractive and offers a free spam filter. and also offer to help you get rid of the junk.

The following pages were used in preparing this page:
The creators of unsolicited email -
Some of the costs of spam -
Laws about spam -
Spam (the meat) FAQ -
The story of the meat product -,, and


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