NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Where are Those Emails Coming From?

Where Are Those Emails Coming From?

          Unwanted emails – or spam – seem to arrive on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

          Spam is Internet slang for unsolicited email, primarily unsolicited commercial email (UCE). The use of the term "spam" is supposedly derived from a Monty Python sketch in which Spam is included in every dish offered at a restaurant.

          Those of us who are recipients of spam often consider it an unwanted intrusion in our e-mailbox. Internet Service Providers (ISPs consider spam to be an impediment to Internet access because it can clog an ISP's available bandwidth. Spam has also been linked with fraudulent business schemes, chain letters, and offensive sexual and political messages.

          Not all bulk email is spam though. Some is permission-based, meaning that the recipient- such as a online catalog selling supplies for your favorite hobby, children’s clothing or other products - has asked you if you wish to receive it. This occurs when we as a consumer visit the company’s web site and voluntarily agree to receive a newsletter or other email notifying us of special sales on our favorite product. This is known as "opt-in email".

          Companies who want to use email as advertising usually enter into a contract with a “spammer",  a company in the business of distributing unsolicited email.  The cost of spam is far less than postal bulk mailings. An advertiser could spam 10,000 recipients for under a few hundred dollars versus several thousand dollars for a postal mailing.

          How do spammers find you? Sometimes they may buy your address from a company, such as a magazine you subscribe to, or they obtain them by using software programs that pluck names from websites, newsgroups, or other services in which users identify themselves by email address.

          Defenders of spam claim that it is little different from junk mail and can, in fact, be tossed easily: simply hit the delete key. Although there is some truth to this idea, receiving spam is actually more like receiving a junk fax or a sales call on a cellular phone because the cost of distributing the advertisement is borne by the recipient (or the recipient's ISP), not the sender.

          Every ISP pays for the right to operate on the Net by purchasing bandwidth, the "space" it uses to transmit over the Internet. As the volume of spam directed through an ISP increases, the bandwidth becomes crowded, often slowing down the user's Internet access. To counter this, the ISP must pay for filtering software (which can also slow access) or pay to increase the amount of bandwidth. In both cases the expense is often passed along to subscribers.

          Some spam allows you to request that your email address be removed from the spammer's list, but consumer rights groups caution that when you respond to a spam email, you verify to the sender that your email account is active. This may result in your receiving even more spam.  For now, setting filters on your computer and consistently hitting “delete” – without opening them- are your best defense against a too full emailbox.




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