Going to war…on spam

Most of this post is a little off topic from our general “communications” theme. Tough. But, for those of you who might feel shortchanged, I promise to close it with a legitimate communications question.

Last week I declared war on spam. The early results are encouraging.

My attack was not a rash decision and no one can say I wasn’t provoked. I think what did it was the 17th message of the day promising penis enhancement (or in the language of spammers, “Make ur D’ ick 3 INches Lnger and ur LoVeR 3X happy”). Of course, it could have been the 9th message telling me that my Target/Wal-Mart/JCPenney/Dell/Amazon gift card was ready for pick up or maybe one of the endless succession of offers to send me an entire drug store through the mail. All I really remember is saying, “I’m not going to take this any more.”

Chances are you feel the same way. Chances are everyone feels the same way. According to the Radacti Group (which purports to study e-mail usage and trends), there are about 1.2 billion of us sending and receiving e-mails. And, according to another research firm called Ipswitch, those boxes fill up with as many as 180 billion e-mails every day and about 95 percent of it spam.

For those of us who work for large organizations with IT departments, this issue may not be as much in your face as it is for me. Your corporate nerds are probably doing a pretty good job in filtering spam out of your in-box like the nice folks at Fleishman Hillard (with which I still work on various projects and thus still have an e-mail address there). About the only thing that gets through their filters, for some reason, is spam from the Falun Gong.

If, on the other hand, you’re an independent or use your home computer for e-mail (which I do for my JAA work and have a third address that’s purely for personal stuff), you probably know what I’m talking about. If you’re like me, you’re probably spending an hour or so every day managing your e-mail inbox (there’s a productivity boost!). Do the math and that means we’re spending weeks out of every year doing nothing but dealing with spam.

Screw that.

Like any good military strategist, having resolved to fight back, I started by gathering intelligence on the enemy, in this case by really looking at the crap in my in-box. What I quickly realized is that I’d created a fair chunk of the problem myself in the form of e-mail lists I’d signed up for and no longer needed or wanted (or ever wanted). After spending about four days clicking on the “Unsubscribe” links, I noticed a significant decrease in traffic of this sort.

One word of warning on this point: Make sure the lists you’re unsubscribing from are legitimate ones; some spammers include fake “unsubscribe” links as a way to verify a legitimate e-mail address. This can actually lead to more spam.

But…what about all the other penis ads I didn’t sign up for?

For those, I went looking for an easy-to-use, low-cost version of the corporate spam blockers. There are several out there to look at – including some integrated into applications that provide other security services like virus protection – but I settled on a solution called Cloudmark that interfaces smoothly with Outlook and uses a database – compiled by the experiences of users everywhere – to detect and block spam (today’s stats claim that have blocked over a billion pieces of spam). This process happens invisibly and has proven to be extremely effective on cutting my daily e-mail traffic by about 90 percent. Cloudmark is a subscription service that goes for $40 a year and appears to be some of the best money I’ve spent recently.

Short of tearing up the Internet and starting over, there doesn’t seem to be a systemic way to rid the world of spam. I did read, though, that about 80 percent of spam is generated by 200 people so getting our hands – virtually, of course – around their throats would be a good start. Which brings me to the communications closer: If a spammer needed PR representation for what is a legal but highly annoying activity, should they get it? Would you do it? Why or why not?

– Austin

PS – Along the lines of this rant about spam, I also plan to write another screed on “cords…I hate ’em.” Prepare yourself. hr outsourcing kind

2 thoughts on “Going to war…on spam

  1. jloveland says:

    I feel obligated to make the predictable guy joke about how I never get those emails. Triumph of targeting and all that. Har har.

    My only gripe with iPhone is that its spam filtering is non-existent. I get virtually no spam on my iMac but get plastered on iPhone. I’m constantly deleting to make room for real messages.

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