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August 06, 2005

Oh, O(prah)!

Those who have heard my public speaking on the topic of improving consumer education about spamdom and scamdom know that I frequently ask if anyone in the room knows Oprah, as in Oprah Winfrey. I ask this—half in jest, half in all seriousness—because I believe the message about protecting oneself from e-messaging-borne intrusions needs to reach the Internet-using public, especially those who are not sufficiently technically aware to realize that they're at grave risk. These folks don't read antispam Web sites or RSS feeds, just as homeowners don't study termites until the porch falls off the side of the house. Oprah's audience (among others) needs to learn about the potential perils of opening unsolicited messages and clicking on the links.

In the last week or so, a series of spam messages have been trumpeting a free three-year subscription to "Oprah Magazine." Most of the messages fail to get the title of magazine, "O, The Oprah Magazine," correct, but who cares as long as "Oprah" is in the Subject: line? A three-year sub to "O" on the open market is worth about $50 (extrapolating the official Web site's $19.97 rate for a one-year subscription).

From what I can tell, this entire campaign is about lead generation, that is, getting names/addresses/email addresses of new people so that they can be spammed until the cows come home. Clues in some of the messages indicate that to get the subscription, you'll need to jump through a few hoops, but mostly you'll be giving up the names/addresses/email addresses of your friends and family, ratting them out to spammers.

The messages I've inspected use the same magazine cover artwork, supplied by a Canadian firm called Azoogle Inc., a firm that is listed in Spamhaus' Registry of Known Spam Operations (the master record is here.) The messages originate from and link to affiliates who do the dirty work for a commission.

Do the hoop jumpers ever get their subscriptions? I can't say for sure one way or the other. The magazine subscription business runs so slowly on its own that there is a good likelihood that you'll forget about the subscription you "won," and may give it a few milliseconds of thought several months from now if the magazines don't arrive. Then you'll just shrug your shoulders, while the inboxes of you and your best friends pile up with spam crap, and your lead data is resold over and over, putting yet more coin in spammers' pockets.

What would Oprah think about all this? I want to believe that she would have nothing to do with a ROKSO-listed bulk emailer. I also want to believe that she would not be too happy to have an army of no-name Web sites flail her valuable brand name about the Internet with wild abandon—without her control. The truth, however, could come from the other side of the coin: her magazine/publishing group made a deal with Azoogle for low-cost subscriptions in return for the "exposure" to millions of potential readers (how the exposure is achieved—just don't tell us). It could be a pure advertising play. That would leave a very bad taste in the mouths of those who are spammed—and spammed repeatedly—in Oprah's name.

And so, I ask once again:

Does anyone know Oprah?

Posted on August 06, 2005 at 09:23 AM