A ‘Boulder Pledge scoreboard’ website

Spam: Ask Slashdot: How Powerful is the Turn-Off Power of Spam? The question is, ‘How often do you make the decision to NOT buy something form a company because you know they engage in spamming activities?’

This is an old idea — it goes back to a December 1996 column by Roger Ebert, of all people, who proposes the following pledge that all internet users should take:

Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.

8 years later, it’s more important than ever.

However, it’s complicated by one additional factor — not everyone knows which products and companies use spam to advertise. For example, did you know that Kraft routinely advertise their Gevalia coffee through spam?

My suggestion — a daring individual (that rules me out ;) should set up a website where samples of major-product-advertising spam are collected from (trusted) reporters. A quick scoreboard based on how many reports a particular company accumulates, and we have a Boulder Pledge reputation service.

Some simple rules should be applied:

  • Messages arriving at never-used spamtrap addresses, or scraped addresses from USENET or the web, especially if the message hits multiple of those addresses (indicating a high volume), is the basis for a listing;
  • Failure to respect opt-outs, of course, would be a biggie;
  • Using a known spamhaus, or sending via open proxies in Shandong, would be a massive thumbs-down;
  • Failure to clean up it’s act after being made aware of the problem, oh dear.

It’d be essential to take an extremely careful approach to this; any hint of personal axe-grinding, and the site would be useless, written off as just the work of ‘another anti-spam kook’.

Essentially, this’d be a Fortune-500-oriented version of spamvertized.org.

Reportedly, many of the large companies using spam to advertise are fully aware at a management level that they are responsible for spamming. (That line about open proxies in Shandong is no joke — at least one Fortune 500 company has hired a spamhaus that does this.)

Doubtless, some spamvertisers may be victim to an overzealous but clueless marketing department, on the other hand — but either way, a public ‘name and shame’ forum gives a great impetus for them to avoid this problem, at least once they’ve been bitten the first time.

In some cases, it’s dodgy ‘affiliates’ that use spam to advertise their products — but a company that operates affiliates really should post a policy that says that affiliates found to be spamming will be terminated and have their commissions forfeited; reportedly, that has been found in other programs to quickly cut off the problem.

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