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Spam Update

June 4th, 2004

Just thought I’d let you know how my spam research is going. As I mentioned previously, I wanted to see how much spam I could generate if I (a) placed an email address on a web page, and (b) responded to the “opt-out” messages that are supposed to stop spam. In both cases, I used virgin accounts which had never been used elsewhere, therefore eliminating any outside source of spam.

The results, after six weeks:

For the email address posted on the web page (invisibly, by the way; no casual viewer would ever spot it, ergo bots must have found it), 293 spam emails have been received. That number consists of:

21 emails notifying me that I had won a European lottery;
24 viruses or virus-related emails;
63 emails from Nigerian 419 scammers (+ from other countries);
184 standard spam advertisements; and
1 political plea for Falun Gong support.

The opt-out account I entered into web pages that advertise that they will strike you from their lists–which by U.S. law must never be sent email; I entered the email address into 26 opt-out pages, and used it nowhere else.

After a few weeks of inaction, it sparked to life and now has generated 84 spam emails in one month. The frequency is growing rapidly: at first it was just one every few days, but recently it has been 4 or 5 per day and just today 10 have come in so far. After a slow start, the email from the opt-outs now exceeds that of the posted email.

However, 100% of the spam from this test is advertising, which suggests that the scam artists rely primarily on bots that search for posted email addresses, while the regular advertisers use many methods to generate their lists.

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