Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It’s the Birthday of Spam— Hang the Mourning Crepe

Spam inventor Gary Thueck is still proud of his creation and makes appearances at industry conventions and trades shows where he is fawned over by conscienceless greed heads.

On May 3, 1978 Gary Thuerkcursed be his name and all of his decedents to the seventh generation—sent the first unsolicited mass business electronic message shilling a new computer model from Digital Equipment Corporation to 393 West Coast ARPANET users, most of whom were ticked off.  But he sold a handful of pricy computers.  A business model was born.
Commercial messages had been sent before, but each message was sent individually.  Thurek, evidently a lazy jerk, casually asked a subordinate—probably a harried secretary—to use an ARPANET directory and just send ‘em all out at once.
Around the same time nerds with access to valuable computer time were playing multi-user Dungeons and Dragons games in chatrooms.  At least one disgruntled competitor for the shared time came up with the idea of flooding the rooms with nuisance messages to shut them down and prevent them from playing the game—a malicious use of mass messaging.
Both developments were copied, slowly at first, but picking up steam as more users hooked up to what became known as the Internet.
The term Spam for such activity came a bit later, in the early ‘80’s.  It was first applied to the then popular Bulletin Board discussion groups.  Participants wishing to silence another began to type the word Spam scrolling in long chains, forcing opponents’ entries far down, and hopefully out of notice.  Spam was used in reference to the classic Monty Python sketch where a waitress recites the menu—consisting entirely of the ersatz canned meat product accompanied by a chorus of Vikings. 
It did not take long for the term to be applied to flooding Usenet newsgroups with unwanted messages.  At first it was sort of pranking—Star Trek fans vs. Star Wars sort of thing.  But it turned malicious 1993 in response to the Automated Retroactive Minimal Moderation (ARMM), software intended to allow Usenet newsgroup administrators to somewhat regulate abusive postings and ban offenders.  Many regarded this as censorship and in response Usenet was flooded with mass multiple messages which were characterized as Spam.
By the mid 90’s increasingly Usenet was also being flooded by Make Money Fastic chain letters.

Lawyers Martha Siegel and Laurence Canter spammed Usernet chat rooms, made a fortune peddling a how-to-get-rich-quick book for spammers, and went after critics with a vengeance.

Spam on a really massive commercial scale was credited to attorneys Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel who flooded newsgroups with advertising for their immigration law practice. The so-called Green Card spam was wide spread and harshly reviled.  Defiant the husband and wife lawyer team attacked their critics as censors and anti-capitalists.  They also set themselves up as self-appointed experts in e-marketing authoring How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway, which they marketed, naturally by Spam messages.
As the Usenet and newsgroups faded with the rise in popularity of e-mail spurred by America on Line (AOL) and then outfits like Yahoo!, spam migrated there.
Soon elaborate programs were developed to harvest e-mail address and mass e-mail lists were being peddled to big commercial users for huge amounts of money.  There became a technological race between e-mail service providers and spammers to filter or ban the messages.

Today a majority of most e-mail can broadly be categorized as Spam.  More if messages sent to people who inadvertently agreed to a “business relationship” are added to those totally unsolicited.  It has literally driven users, particularly younger folks, away from e-mail entirely in favor of instant messaging, phone texting, and social media platforms.
So, naturally, spamming has migrated to those platforms.  The proliferation of phishing schemes that harvest friends lists when users click on sucker bait posts or friend requests from phony or cloned accounts has become so widespread that it is undermining confidence in Facebook leading some experts to predict the ultimate collapse of the internet’s most widely used social media platform. 
Alternatives like Instagram, Redditt, and Pinterest have all demonstrated vulnerabilities.  Twitter handles are notoriously easy to harvest.  Something of a haven just a few short years ago, cell phones are now flooded with unsolicited texts and robo-sales calls.

Many of these scams are merely annoying and having your e-mail account or Facebook identitity hijacked can requires hours of responding to messages from concerned friends and in changing passwords and security options.  But for a tiny percentage, it means having critical identification information fall into the hands of criminals, usually based in Russia or some other safe haven country, who can empty checking and banking accounts in seconds or run up thousands of dollars on credit cards.  This has meant absolute devastation to many people not only pauperizing them but almost irretrievably destroying the credit ratings.
And the spammers?  Well, they keep finding new ways to get in your face whether you like it or not.
Happy birthday, indeed!


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