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A Dispatch

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December 30, 2007

"This is Not Spam" and Other Lies

Amid the flurry of New Year greetings desperately trying to get me to download a Trojan "postcard" came an unsolicited message trying to sell me electronic goodies. It begins:

This is not spam. You can subscribe to this list or remove from this list at your will.

After a slew of product listings, comes more disclaimer stuff (copied ver[sic]em):

You received this email because you have subsribed to our mailing list at one point. Our philosophy is to inform the customers not spam them. We will NOT send you more than two emails within any 7 day period (think about some of the spam emails that you might receive everyday). If you don't want to receive our emails in the future, it is also very easy to do. goto our unsubscribe website, fill in your email address and the email identifier, then submit the request. We use a unique identifier to prevent people from unsubsribing others simply by knowing their emails. If you don't have an email identifier, you can get one from the same place.Please note that it might take a few days to unsubscribe, but in general you will not receive any more messages.

By the way, please dont reply to this message. The email account is not monitored and any email will be deleted without reading.

The minute a marketer tells you that the message is not spam, you know instantly that it's spam. In your eyes, anyway. It's like that old joke, "We're from the government, and we're here to help." Things can only get worse from that point onward.

The sender believes that by simply providing an opt-out mechanism, the message complies with the U.S. CAN-SPAM law. But, as we all know, just because it's "legal" doesn't make it not spam in the eyes of the recipient. Moreover, he fails to identify himself in the message, using a yahoo.com address in the From: field. There is no business name or address at all. That's definitely illegal.

He also blew it Big Time by sending the message to an address of mine that could have been obtained only by harvesting from a third-party web site. The address is used for absolutely no other purpose. Whether he did the (also illegal) harvesting or bought the list from someone else who plucked the address, I can guarantee you that I never submitted that address to sign up for marketing mailings (either subscribe, or, as he writes, "subsribe") or to conduct any other business with a web retailer.

So, it appears we have here your basic run-of-the-mill spammer. Pardon me while I yawn.

But then I checked out the links in the message. The subscribe/unsubscribe links are to a domain whose name promises me bargains on the web. But the product links are to amazon.com searches (tagged with an identifier) and to an Amazon service called aStore. From my understanding, aStore makes it easy to set up a finely-tuned web shop that pulls from Amazon's inventory, uses Amazon's shopping cart, and more.

I couldn't imagine that Amazon would condone the use of spam—especially illegal spam—to attract customers to click on links that generate business for one of its Associates. Navigating to the Associates Operating Agreement, I found Section 11, which states, in part:

...you agree that as a condition of your participation in the Program you will comply with all applicable laws (federal, state or otherwise) that govern marketing email, including without limitation, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and all other anti-spam laws.

That, along with the Associates program identifier for this rube buried within his links, was everything I needed to know, so I submitted my report to the Associates support department. Having just gone through a less-than-satisfying experience with one giant company, I had my doubts. The only thing going for me is that the Associates program must be a smaller business unit within the giant Amazon corporation.

Much to my surprise and glee, I received a response in less than six hours (on a Saturday), which read, in part:

We were unaware of this Associate'’s intention to advertise in this manner and would certainly never have pre-approved it. We do not use nor tolerate the use of spamming as an advertising method. We will contact the offender immediately and put a stop to this.

Although I would have preferred putting a stop to the offender (my dream world has a one-strike-and-yer-out policy about spam and any financial benefit derived therefrom), putting the guy on notice is a decent first step. I included the full source code of the spam message, but blocked out the harvested email address. Thus, in case Amazon sends him a copy of my report, he won't be able to listwash my address. Any future attempts to spam to that same list will reach me, and trigger yet another report to Amazon and, with luck, bring the hammer down.

How's that for a web bargain, jerk?

Posted on December 30, 2007 at 02:41 PM