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What do you do when your employer is a spammer?

I wrote this nice little rant back when I was at MP3.com and posted it on the company message board. I love to ruffle some feathers! The poor programmers who spent their days earning their paychecks by spamming people were offended that I pointed out that their jobs have a net negative effect on society. Sometimes the truth hurts! The characters of my various coworkers were all made pretty clear to me based on all of the "Way to go!" comments vs. those who sat silently fuming or complaining to management about those who dare to have a little integrity. A discussion came up about spamming and someone said that all the victim has to do is request to be unsubscribed...

They should not HAVE to request to be unsubscribed! They never requested to be subscribed in the first place! And anyone who has been on the net very long knows that most spammers include an "unsubscribe" link which just puts you on their premium list because you have now verified that the address is good and mail is being read. Common wisdom is to NEVER reply to a spam.

When I wonder whether something is right or not (which should be a decision made BEFORE trying to decide whether something is profitable or not) I always consider whether I would be ok with it if everyone else did the same thing. Throw one candy wrapper on the ground? Harmless right? What if everyone does it? Big mess. I'll walk to the trashcan. Send spam? Just us? Not that bad. But us and everyone else? Big mess. I'd rather we didn't do it.

Let's say we send emails to a million good addresses. We claim to have that many right? And say it takes 5 seconds per person to delete the mail. That's 1388 hours of wasted productivity. What is the average person paid now? That's a lot of wasted money! And what if they actually read and spend time unsubscribing? The price goes up an order of magnitude. Who's paying for this? Not us! Sounds wrong to me.

It has been said before that we should require a confirmation email and the reply has always been said that our subscribership would drop precipitously. Gee. Could it be that the vast majority of our "subscribers" don't really want our mail? If they did want it they would confirm! LOTS of people confirm to be on mailing lists about useful discussion topics because of the value provided. Check out www.ultraviolet.org/mail-archives . Those are all of the mailing lists I am personally subscribed to. I had to send a confirm message to each one because they are responsible mailing list maintainers. And I find info in there that helps me do my job better nearly every day. THAT is value! I've heard people walking around talking about "maximizing the value proposition to the customer" but I think we are deluding ourselves if we think all of the people on our lists are really interested in what we have to advertise no matter how great we make the "value proposition".

Sure, users get music for putting in their email address. But how many users put in their correct email address? A lot of people get our mail who have never been to our site. That is wrong. Sorry you take offense but your role in the company is costing society more than it is making.

mail.mp3.com is besieged with spam from people with policies similar to ours. Our own company wastes a lot of money dealing with spam. A large percentage of all of the mail going through mail.mp3.com is spam. Remember that next time someone complains about the server being slow. We have to buy more hardware because of spam. I have to spend time administering and upgrading the thing. I have to deal with adjusting filters to block the really troublesome spam. I have to deal with maintaining the anti-mail-relay rules and answer questions for every employee who takes their laptop off-site and tries to send mail through smtp.mp3.com (the standard outgoing mail server) because the anti-relay-rules necessarily block them because it is impossible to tell them from a spammer trying to relay mail. The webmaster and hostmaster and abuse and root mail aliases are clogged with spam. We have missed important communications to these addresses because they were lost in the noise.

I have been running mail servers for 9 years. I see the cost of spam every day. It is NOT free advertising. Someone else pays for it. WE pay for the spam everyone else is sending just like they pay for the spam we send in terms of resources and time wasted as I detailed above. You see money coming in. I see the money going out!

Most forms of industrial production increase the nations GNP. Useful production adds to our overall net worth and enables us to produce more. A car costs something but overall it gains society something more than its worth in the long run. My car is paid off and is now paying dividends in the form of getting me to work every day. Spam doesn't work that way. As an economy it DECREASES our productivity and total net worth. It is costing society more to deal with it than it is making. LOTS of people spend a lot of money dealing with spam while only a few selfish people make money with it.

Just imagine if every company had these ethics. You would get email from every company once a week. And you would be ok with that? All you have to do is request to be unsubscribed! To each of them! How many companies are there in the world? A whole lot more than you want to press the delete key for. I get a dozen spams a day at my home address and...67 SO FAR TODAY at my work address. It's a major pain and it wastes my (and the companies) time. Each one includes some sort of instructions which will allegedly get you off of their list. I am not going to bother of course.

Would you teach your children that it is ok to do something wrong as long as it pays the bills? Such children would surely be willing to trade my embarassment for their unemployment checks. But that isn't the kind of person I want to be and those aren't the kind of people I want to work with. Integrity is still worth something in my world.

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This was originally written around the 2001 timeframe. Now in 2006 I get over 500 spams at my personal email account every day.

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