Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, Spam and Terrorism; An Ethical Discussion

 

- Vinod Scaria

Center for Cybermedicine and Internet Research

Correspondence: Perumcheril 33/4711, Malaparamba, Calicut 673009 Kerala, India

E-Mail: vinodscaria@yahoo.co.in

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 111-2.

 

Keywords: Internet, Spam, Ethics, Terrorism, Unsolicited commercial Mail, Case studies,

 

Introduction

"Spam is the result a lack of ethics and integrity in regards to promotional activities on the internet. It's not a question of whether or not you get caught. It's a question of maintaining your ethics and integrity while still engaging in promotion, marketing and advertising." --Richard Lowe

Internet has been perhaps the most important discovery humankind made in the last century. Nothing else had its impact on our day-to-day lives. Even though Spam is commonly used in association with E-Mail, it had its origin even before the advent of E-mails. It actually denoted sending multiple posts to newsgroups in order to flood them with messages or to involve in cross posting the same message in a number of newsgroups simultaneously.

 

It is thought that the term originated from a popular Monty Python comedy sketch about spam [which is a popular pork product]

 

What Exactly is Spam?

       Unsolicited emails to a mass audience. 

       Cross posting commercial email to multiple newsgroups [News groups are websites where you could post your news/ comments eg: http://www.groups.google.com on different subject areas] or email lists [E-Mail lists are e-mail based discussion forums where multiple individuals collaborate via e-mail.]

       Internet based telemarketing

       Sending unsolicited messages to chat and instant messaging services

       Attempting to fool search engines through massive or fraudulent submissions. [1]

 

Problem Description

1] Some Case studies

Case 1: An automatically generated reply from one e-mail address read:

Dear colleague,
due to massive spamming to this email address (>100 messages about penis enlargements, Nigeria money laundering, and Viagra per day) I had to close this email account.
You need to manually forward your sent message to the following address:
<e-mail id has been removed to maintain privacy>

Please remove the blanks, which have been introduced to prevent spammers from extracting this email address from the response automatically.

I apologize for the inconvenience - say thank you to all these @#$&*! spammers.
<Name has been removed to maintain privacy>

Attention Spammers: This is a university hospital email address. Your spam may interfere with patient care. Any kind of bulk-email, opt-in newsletters, Nigeria scam letters, mailing lists will under no means be tolerated. Violators WILL be prosecuted by the University Health Network.

 

This is just a glimpse of what is happening around us. Spam, and unsolicited Commercial Mails (UCEs) are making people insane by making their inboxes turn just  into junkyards. This also brings forth hitherto unrecognized dilemmas in human lives also.

A physician who is in specific need of a particular information detrimental for his patient, like a copy of an article his colleague had promised to E-mail him would just turn insane to find his mailbox filled with UCEs- ranging from pills that enlarge certain body parts or shrink you to your bones in weeks to sale of inkjet cartridges, university degrees without actually studying and money launders and scams.

This also brings to light the extreme possibility of affection of Human lives due to Spam.

 

Case 2: a quote of message sent out in response to a query regarding junk mails

"...........My domain <URL Removed to maintain privacy> is under attack by someone who doesn't like my MILITANT, PUBLIC ANTI-SPAM stance. To date, their actions have included sending apparently several thousand e-mail messages, forged showing my name as the sender. In addition, this same party or someone working with them conducted a denial-of-service attack on our system last night, 14 May. See < URL removed>, including system logs clearly showing
the terrorists' use of third-party unsecured SMTP servers as relays (which you will also see by looking at the headers of the messages that were sent)............."

 

This is just a glimpse of how spammers operate. They forge names and Ids of respected personalities and send out bulk mail- keeping themselves behind the veils. There are also many culprits who forge reply addresses of their business enemies [often doing ethical business] in their mails and let the angry, insane people reply back and thus terrorizing the Internet server resources of that company.

 

2] Spam: the actual incidence

The actual incidence of spam has not been well quantified. The fact is that it varies widely from commercial to personal accounts. Though it is estimated that it accounts for 20-30% roughly, our own studies [unpublished] estimate that it ranges from 5% for new internet users and 45% for personal E-mails of ordinary users who have been using the internet for more than a year to close to 60% in professionals actively engaged in discussions over the Internet and close to 67% for commercial companies.

This is much higher than any estimates published so far. The higher values were perhaps because we had studied e-mail accounts, which had no spam blocking utilities- in a venture to identify the trend in an unobtrusive setting.

 

3] Internet Spam: Linguistics

The following note was derived from a post on the Yahoo Club:AntiSpam [2] and truly expresses what the spammers really mean.

Perhaps anybody who has experienced the worst of spam would agree to the last word.of the note. The most interesting part is that many of the spammers provide a snail mail address in which you are expected to contact to unsubscribe from (?) their service!!!

 

Spamish

English

To be removed

To confirm that we found a live address

This is not spam

This is spam

You requested

We hope you will believe that because we have a bridge to sell

IMPORTANT!

Does the word 'bull' have a meaning to you?

Enter your credit card number here

Sucker!

Enter your phone number here

Sucker!

 

4] The cost of spam

Last year the United States Federal Trade commission, partnering with 12 Federal states embarked on a massive program to curb the menace of spam by setting up a huge database and collecting evidence related to spammers. [3]

Spam is also costing people huge amounts of money. The Ferris Research report puts the cost of spam to US businesses at around $8.9 billion a year; and, to European businesses (where junk is less rampant) at $2.5 billion [4]

 

Ethics of Spam

There are varying opinions on the ethical aspects of UCEs, while some feel Spam is to be condemned [5] with all the force given the annoyance and difficulty it causes, some others feel that spam is a mere extension of direct marketing on the Internet [6], while others take a middle-man approach saying it is up to the end-user to decide what is Spam, and what is not [7][8].

There is no doubt that the majority of users condemn spam [9] and a majority of individuals feel that spam should be eliminated at any cost. But in an anarchic world on the Internet, where laws cannot be implemented as in a geographic entity, it is simply nonsense believing someone would somehow get rid of it.

 

Is Spam Terrorism?

Terrorism=use of violence or intimidation

Terrorise= fill with terror by threats or acts of violence

[Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English]

At least some regard spam as a sort of terrorism. Spam can indeed be regarded as terrorism. Though some regard it as a lighter form of terrorism [10], while others equate spammers to real world terrorists [11]. Holding at ransom some close to 900 million Internet users is something that can be equated to Terrorism in every sort. Apart from costing them money and time, they also have the potential to create havoc with lives either in the form of directly influencing them by fraudulent practices [including marketing of drugs often with no proved efficacy] or indirectly by hampering proper functioning of caregivers including physicians and other medical professionals.

 

Discussion

This paper indents to bring to light the hitherto unheard potential of Internet spam to affect lives of people. For this single reason, spam may be considered as an anti human and a serious flaw in Ethical conduct and use of resources intended for the general progress of mankind, especially the upliftment of downtrodden classes. The Huge amount of money earmarked on a yearly basis, which is growing each year is beyond what any growing economy can sustain. This money was better utilized for modernization of healthcare facilities and provide food and housing for the poor people.

It is also sad to note that emerging economies like the Asian economies are also finding it hard to protect themselves adequately from the threat of Internet terrorism. This means more and more money that ought to have been spent for other developmental projects needs to be diverted to sustain their hard earned assets especially in the Information Technology arena.

I hope that this paper would stimulate more research into this field and stimulate many to come up with evidence related to how Internet directly affects Human lives adversely.

 

References

1] The Innocent Can Of Spam http://www.internet-tips.net/Email/SPAM.htm

2] Yahoo Club: AntiSpam URL: http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/antispam

3] FTC puts spam on target list ; The Washington Times :November 14, 2002: http://www.washtimes.com/business/20021114-92303950.htm

4] QuiteATake.com Deepak Mankar
Mumbai, January 11

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_136024,00030007.htm

5] Spam Terrorism ;From Newspoem .URL: http://www.newspoetry.com/2002/1110.html

6] The ethics of spam 

http://www.nwfusion.com/columnists/2001/0402gibbs.html

7] Spam: What's in a name? Carlton Vogt http://archive. infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/01/02/02/010202opethics.xml

8] Is It Spam or Is It E-Mail Direct Marketing?

By John Gaffney, January 21, 2002

http://www.business2.com/articles/web/0,1653,37235|2,00.html

9] WitchVox Survey #2 - Pagan Spam

http://www.witchvox.com/surveys/pagan_spam_results1.html

10] [SC-Help] SPAM is a kind of terrorism [an archived message at the spamcop discussion list] URL: http://news.spamcop.net/pipermail/spamcop-help/2001-October/016336.html

11] Time to stamp out spam 'terrorism' The Daily Star Online Full Text URL: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/28_03_03_b.asp

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