Spam: Where It Comes From And How To Escape It


In 1936, long before the rise of the personal computer, Hormel Foods created SPAM. In 2002, the company will produce its six billionth can of the processed food product. But that mark was passed long ago in the world of Internet spam.

Who Cooked This!? (How did it all start?)

The modern meaning of the word “spam” has nothing to do with spiced ham. In the early 1990’s, a skit by British comedy group Monty Python led to the word’s common usage. “The SPAM Skit” follows a couple struggling to order dinner from a menu consisting entirely of Hormel’s canned ham.

Repetition is key to the skit’s hilarity. The actors cram the word “SPAM” into the 2.5 minute skit more than 104 times! This flood prompted Usenet readers to call unwanted newsgroup postings “spam.” The name stuck.

Spammers soon focused on e-mail, and the terminology moved with them. Today, the word has come out of technical obscurity. Now, “spam” is the common term for “Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail”, or “UCE.”
Why Does Bad Spam Happen to Good People?

Chances are, you’ve been spammed before. Somehow, your e-mail address has found it’s way into the hands of a spammer, and your inbox is suffering the consequences. How does this happen? There are several possibilities.

Backstabbing Businesses

Businesses often keep lists of their customers’ e-mail addresses. This is a completely legitimate practice and, usually, nothing bad comes of it. Sometimes though, the temptation to make a quick buck is too great, and these lists are sold or rented to outside advertisers. The result? A lot of unsolicited e-mail, and a serious breach of trust.

Random Address Generation

Computer programs called random address generators simply “guess” e-mail addresses. Over 100 million hotmail addresses exist – howhard could it be to guess some of them? Unfortunately for many unsuspecting netizens – not too hard. Many spammers also guess at

“standard” addresses, like “[email protected]”,

[email protected]”, and “[email protected]

Web Spiders

Today’s most insidious list-gathering tools are web spiders. All of the major search engines spider the web, saving information about each page. Spammers use tools that also spider the web, but save any e-mail address they come across. Your personal web page lists your e-mail address? Prepare for an onslaught!

Chat Room Harvesting

ISP’s offer vastly popular chat rooms where users are known only by their screen names. Of course, spammers know that your screen name is the first part of your e-mail address. Why waste time guessing e-mail addresses when a few hours of lurking in a chat room can net a list of actively-used addresses?

The Poor Man’s Bad Marketing Idea

It didn’t work for the phone companies, and it won’t work for e-mail marketers. But, some spammers still keep their own friends-and-family-style e-mail lists. Compiled from the addresses of other known spammers, and people or businesses that the owner has come across in the past, these lists are still illegitimate. Why? Only you can give someone permission to send you e-mail. A friend-of-a-friend’s permission won’t cut it.

Stop The Flood to Your Inbox

Already drowning in spam? Try using your e-mail client’s filters – many provide a way to block specific e-mail addresses. Each time you’re spammed, block the sender’s address. Spammers skip from address to address, and you may be on many lists, but this method will at least slow the flow.

Also, use more than one e-mail address, and keep one “clean.” Many netizens find that this technique turns the spam flood into a trickle. Use one address for only spam-safe activities like e-mailing your friends, or signing on with trustworthy businesses. Never use your clean address on the web! Get a free address to use on the web and in chat rooms.

If nothing else helps, consider changing screen names, or opening an entirely new e-mail account. When you do, you’ll start with a clean, spam-free slate. This time, protect your e-mail address!

Stay Off Spammed Lists in the Future

Want to surf the web without getting sucked into the spam-flood? Prevention is your best policy. Don’t use an easy-to-guess e-mail address. Keep your address clean by not using it for spam-centric activities. Don’t post it on any web pages, and don’t use it in chat rooms or newsgroups.

Before giving your clean e-mail address to a business, check the company out. Are sections of its user agreement dedicated to anti-spam rules? Does a privacy policy explain exactly what will be done with your address? The most considerate companies also post an anti-spam policy written in plain English, so you can be absolutely sure of what you’re getting into.

Think You’re Not a Spammer? Be Sure.

Many a first-time marketer has inadvertently spammed his audience. The first several hundred complaints and some nasty phone messages usually stop him in his tracks. But by then, the spammer may be faced with cleanup bills from his ISP, and a bad reputation that it’s not easy to overcome.

The best way to avoid this situation is to have a clear understanding of what spam is: If anyone who receives your mass e-mails did not specifically ask to hear from you, then you are spamming them.

Stick with your gut. Don’t buy a million addresses for $10, no matter how much the seller swears by them! If something sounds fishy, just say no. You’ll save yourself a lot in the end.

The Final Blow

The online world is turning the tide on spam. In the end, people will stop sending spam because it stops working. Do your part: never buy from a spammer. When your business seeks out technology companies with which to work, only choose those with a staunch anti-spam stance.

Spam has a long history in both the food and e-mail sectors. This year, Hormel Foods opened a real-world museum dedicated to SPAM. While the museum does feature the Monty Python SPAM Skit, there’s no word yet on an unsolicited commercial e-mail exhibit. But, if all upstanding netizens work together, Hormel’s ham in a can will far outlive the Internet plague that is UCE.

About the author: Tom Kulzer is the CEO of Aweber. Test drive Aweber for only $1.

56 thoughts on “Spam: Where It Comes From And How To Escape It”

  1. Yes, thats right. Im already following what You have said. Not casual address, staying away from publishing my email anywhere. Just be inteligent. Im getting 80 spams daily but its OK. It takes me around 1 second per one deleted spam. or less 😉

    1. another thing to help is using an image when posting your email online. spamming products can’t read images…

      1. Hi, for example my email address is not that valuable, but just want to mention that robots CAN read images. You know that they read captchas so there is no problem to read plain text image. Just my oppinion 😉

        1. d3so says:

          It’s amazing what robots are able to accomplish. They’re the basis for most captcha bypass friend adders.

        2. Ewen Chia, can you proof this with a source or similar, last time I checked robots, bots, spiders and the like couldn’t read jpg images or similar, SY

          1. Harry says:

            What she says is true. It’s all open source, and if you spend money you can read bad quality jpg’s

          2. proof? Its all about proof…i just can rap my head around no html text being able to be read

        3. I have a hard time believing that i can create an image in photoshop, save it as a .gif file that bots can ready what I designed…i would need to see a legit source that says bots can read an image with 0 html text on it.

  2. Harshad says:

    I love the bounce feature in Mac OS Mail. That’s the best way to tell spammers that I don’t exist.

    1. I didn’t know that feature :O

  3. Nice post John. I found that quality lists are always better than quantity (unless you have a lot of quality people, obviously).

    1. PPC Ian says:

      I definitely agree on this point!

  4. In my Gmail account, all spam automatically goes to the spam folder.

    It is too good at detecting spam, and so I do not have to deal with spam.

    There is no use in spamming. I don’t understand what they get by emailing spam?

    Do people buy? I don’t think so.

    1. d3so says:

      But gmail isn’t perfect, some spam gets into my inbox and some legit mail gets into my spam folder.
      Another great post by the Aweber CEO.

      1. Jay says:

        Although it isn’t perfect, Gmail is way better than hotmail. I had to stop using my hotmail account a few years ago due to volume of spam that I was receiving.

        1. I had to quit hotmail too a long time ago….Spam completely took over my hotmail account.

          Gmail is the best I have used so far.

          1. d3so says:

            I agree, gmail is the best email service I’ve used by far.

          2. That’s the main tag line of gmail … LESS SPAM.

          3. Gmail is really lovely when it comes to Spam. That’s one of the main reasons i’m using their service among the ease of use 🙂

    2. Vin says:

      Gmail’s Spam filter seems to be one of the best right now.

  5. Interesting writing on spammers. When I saw the first image, I thought it was a John Chow dinner post or something 🙂

    1. d3so says:

      Thinking about it, I haven’t seen dinner posts in awhile. What happened to fine dining?

      1. It’s probably a good thing…this way it’s better content 🙂

  6. CredFollow says:

    Great info John. As a webmaster I do always tell my clients to avoid info, contack, sales, billing, support styles as these are easy targets. I personally use [email protected] i the place of [email protected] and that helps a lot to keep my inbox clean

  7. Make Mon says:

    Great post, it is really annoying getting so much spam daily with all those bots

  8. Spam can be a powerful marketing strategy if you know how to use it correctly

    1. Yeah, sure, when have bought the last time something from a spammer? The only thing what spammers get from me is their IP etc reported to their host, SY

  9. Jordy says:

    When I started doing internet marketing, I was a Craig’s list crazy person. They had me pegged as a spammer from day one.

    I had no ideas what I was doing or even what spam was.

    I learned a difficult lesson. One that caused me to get Google slapped and almost banned from Craig’s list.

    I was also found to be on some blacklists.

    What a stupid beginner I was!

    1. Only few people have dare to accept their stupidity and its nice to see that you accepted in front of world at large.

      I hope your girl friend or your wife is not reading this … lollzz

    2. Everyone does mistakes as a beginner but Wow dude! I’m glad you learned your lesson 😛

  10. Interesting Post Tom. I’m using gmail and i think it’s much better than hotmail or yahoo :).

    Thanks for sharing this great Post.


    1. Hey Dev,

      That’s been my experience too. I now use my yahoo account for most of the untrusted sites that want my email address and gmail for my trusted sites that need my email address. It does not hurt to help gmail out a bit.

      I have found lots of great info on your blog…keep up the good work over there.

    2. I concur. Gmail is like the god of spam filtering 🙂

  11. Tugazone says:

    The spam emails will never stop arriving to our email boxes…ways and ways to get emails to spam….i´ve quited to be troubled with that I do what many of you do DELETE on all of them.


    1. Yep they give you a lot of trouble if you don’t delete them. Even the thought of spam makes me sick :/

  12. John do you ever eat Spam lol?

    1. lol Spam is also Yummy 😀

  13. Tweetcited says:

    Really a great post. Enjoyed reading this. The story behind all this and the tips … Nice.

    1. I concure. It was an awsome compiled info about the word Spam 😛

  14. Boy such a long story behind SPAM word.


    1. Indeed ZK lol that was my first reaction when i read the article 😛

  15. Oh, forgot to say “Thank You Tom!” to finally solve the mystery for me where the word spam originates from! SY

  16. Luke says:

    You can always use disposable e-mails if you’re not sure that what you’re signing up for isn’t going to spam you. I suggest QuickInbox:

  17. Stefan says:

    I got a ugly spam problem.

    Both with my site and my personal email I keep receiving spam about pharmaceutical products. Damn right irritating.

    The worst is that I currently use free hosting and due to complications Akismet is not working !

    1. Well there is a cost of free thing in other format … 🙂

    2. I agree. Never use Free Hosting unless it’s absolutely necessary!

  18. air jordan says:

    The worst is that I currently use free hosting and due to complications Akismet is not working !

  19. Its nice to see that Tom is taking concrete steps against SPAM and sharing these important tips.

    Since he is in this business so he knows how it works and what steps we should take.

    Its also good for this brand, spreading awareness.

  20. Spam is really annoying, but I’m sure it can help some people getting traffic… But getting 389 spam messages a day in your inbox is really crappy!

    1. I don’t know what you do to get that amount of spam mate but you gotta get a better spam filter 😛

  21. Off-topic: Damn you John for making me hungry with the picture on a very important article 😛

    1. Vin says:

      Made me hungry too…. I had to have a very early breakfast. (It’s 4am here by the way) 🙂

  22. John Murphy says:

    I dislike the self appointed “Spam Police” inflicted on me by email managers, webhosts etc and believe that as spam is a fact of linternet life and I want to use the internet, I have to take responsibility for what I get for myself. So, I use Spamarrest which I find very helpful and I know there are other similar services, so why not use one of them?

  23. You can also add “+variable” to your email address and still receive thigns from that list, but track when it’s being sold. Example: I’d use [email protected] for this list.

  24. Ary says:

    I agree with everything you said and I understood how important it is to not buy a list of emails, or find somewhere, but instead to earn it. To make your audience give their emails to you. And it will increase your sales too.

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