The Slippery Slope of Stopping
By Peter L DeHaan
you like spam? Does anyone? I’m
not talking about the luncheon meat product SPAM®, which is produced
by Hormel Foods Corporation, but rather the inundation of unwanted
messages that increasingly plagues us. Unless you
happen to be one of those who delight in propagating spam messages, I
am confident that you concur with me that spam is a problem.
defining spam is easier said than done. What
constitutes spam to some may be acceptable communications to others.
Just as in 1964 when Justice Potter
Stewart famously said of obscenity, “I can't define it, but I know
it when I see it,” the same can be said of spam. In
similar fashion, I too, can quickly spot spam, but coming up with a
concise, compelling, and complete clarification is an elusive
endeavor. Nevertheless, here is my definition: Spam
is an unwanted message that is offensive, illegal, or intrusive.
email messages can take on many forms of varying severity:
pornographic, obscene, offensive, illegal, scams and cons, viruses,
virus warnings, chain letters, sales solicitations, undesired
attachments (especially when they are large), and even thoughtless
email forwards. It is safe to say that email spam
has reached endemic proportions, leading some to say that email use,
as ubiquitous as it currently is, will be decimated in the near
future. Others, however, boldly predict that the
increasing flow of spam will be reversed, curtailed, and stopped
within two years. My view is that reality will end
up in the middle of these two extremes.
claim that filters are the key, but attempts to filter spam often have
the side effect of blocking legitimate messages. I
have experienced this on both the sending and receiving side of the
equation. At one time, I made extensive use of
Microsoft Outlook’s “rules” to search for and automatically move
spam to a separate folder, which I reviewed once a week. Invariably,
I would find legitimate messages in my spam folder, some of which were
time-critical. Also, I invested an excessive amount
of time writing new rules to capture additional spam that had been
designed to bypass spam filters such as mine. My
conclusion is that it takes less time to simply delete spam messages
as they arrive than to try to maintain an effective filter.
Even though much of my email each day is spam, I only spend a
couple minutes a day deleting it. Also, the
interruption caused by spam email (assuming you batch your email) is
let’s return to my definition of spam: Spam
is an unwanted message that is offensive, illegal, or intrusive.
Notice that I did not used the word email. Although
spam messages are associated with email, I submit that any unwanted
message is spam, requiring time for a response and causing an
interruption of more important activities. Consider
Ads: When surfing the Web,
or at least certain websites and portals, popup ads become a
navigational hazard. The more annoying ones blast
you with music or sound. The infuriating ones are
next to impossible to close. Popup
ads, we are told, are used because enough people click on them to
justify the ads’ continued use. I must admit that
even I have clicked on a few myself, albeit accidentally. The
time required to deal with popup ads, unless you are a hard-core web
surfer or have low sales resistance, is minor. The
interruption to efficiently navigating the World Wide Web is moderate.
Mail: The concept of an
unwanted message as applied to direct mail has been given the label of
junk mail. It used to be that I would sort through
the mail when it arrived, cull the junk mail, and throw it in the
trash. But now, with concerns of identity theft
rampant, I find myself opening every piece of junk mail, pulling out
anything with personal information on it and shredding it.
This takes time and is an added annoyance. I
suppose that this effort averages me about five minutes a day.
As such, junk mail actually takes more time to deal with than
spam email messages. Fortunately, this processing
of junk mail is not a true interruption, as I can handle it at a time
Incredibly, I have experienced an increase in door-to-door
solicitations over the past couple years. While I
am proficient at hitting the delete key for email, closing pop-up ads,
shredding junk mail, and quickly ending a telemarketing call, I find
it difficult to literally close the door on someone. After
telling phone representatives that I am not interested, I have no
problem hanging up if they keep jabbering, yet I have never shut my
front door on someone who won’t take no for an answer. Fortunately,
this doesn’t happen too often. Even so, the
interruption is a key annoyance.
These are broadcast mediums, in which content cannot be targeted, but
is intended for the masses. Radio commercials occur
between 12 and 16 minutes every hour and with the average adult
reportedly listening to the radio three hours per day, which results
in about 45 minutes of unwanted messages per day.
With television, there is
even more time devoted to commercials. Surveys
consistently put the number of commercial minutes per hour for TV at
16 and higher (over 20 for daytime TV). With
various studies claiming three to five hours of TV watching per day,
this adds up to an hour or more of unwanted messages each day.
Granted, we have trained ourselves to do productive things
during these times (grab a snack, run to the bathroom, or take out the
trash) or do semi-productive things, like channel surf or get an
update on the score of the game; still a great deal of time is wasted.
radio and TV commercials together approach or exceed two hours of
unwanted messages a day. Isn’t this just another
form of spam? Yes, but one that we have been
conditioned to accept and tolerate.
For most consumers an outbound telemarketing call is unwanted and
therefore it fits the previous definition of spam. With
the advent of the national do-not-call (DNC) law, many consumers, like
me, have registered our residential numbers. This
has stopped all phone solicitations to my home. In
the past year or so, the number of telemarketing calls to my office
has increased from a couple a month to a couple per day! Some
days when the number of unwanted calls exceeds the number of wanted
realized that it was politically advantageous to dramatically curtail
outbound telemarketing by enacting a national DNC law. In
short, they were willing to effectively destroy an industry and thwart
a cost-effective means of marketing, increase the marketing costs of
most companies, and further retard a slowly recovering economy for the
sole purpose of political expediency. Note that
Congress exempted themselves from their own restrictions, giving
testament to their belief in the effectiveness of outbound
Unsolicited faxing is currently illegal and more onerous restrictions
there are advocates for legislation to do to direct mail what DNC did
to outbound calling – effectively stop it.
There are already
serious calls for a “do not email” law (not that it would work).
Or levying a punitive surcharge on each email sent.
fax, mail, and email as targets, could all forms of proactive
marketing be far behind?
We all need marketing. Businesses need to promote
products or services and consumers need to be informed about options.
can help; quite simply, make sure that your message is not viewed as
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