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Nov 22nd 2010 at 4:10 AM

What Is Spam?

There are many definitions of spam. For example, The Spamhaus Project defines an electronic message as "spam" if (A) the recipient's personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients; AND (B) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent. Others define spam more strictly. But the most general definition of "spam" is the sending of e-mail that is both bulk AND unsolicited.

When you open your U.S. Postal mailbox each day and see numerous unsolicited commercial advertisements that have been delivered to you, it can make you wonder why unsolicited electronic e-mail is outlawed. Like all laws and rules, we should look more to history than to logic to understand why they came to be. Although the Internet did not become popular with the public until the early 1990s, the Internet has been in existence for a long time. Prior to the early 1990s, the Internet was used primarily by the military and university scientists. These users were conducting what they justifiably felt was important business which could not be interrupted by commercial correspondence. For most of the Internet's history, ALL commercial correspondence was completely banned. Only relatively recently has commercial use of the Internet been allowed at all. Although this total restriction on commercial use was lifted, a restriction on unsolicited commercial e-mail remains—and for good reason.

E-mail has traditionally been for communicating, not for advertising. Unsolicited commercial e-mail is not only annoying but also without restriction and in sufficient quantity, it has the capacity to render your e-mail completely useless and shut down your e-mail server. Unlike snail mail, e-mail can be sent in tremendous bulk with very little effort and very little cost—which would surely result in thousands of messages a day from thousands of sources were it not prohibited. Since many people break the no-spam rules and send it out anyway, we have all had some taste of what e-mail would be like if spam were not prohibited. Spam understandably makes people mad. When they get mad, they report spammers to their ISPs or other organizations or to the government authorities. Bad consequences, such as losing Internet service or even facing civil and criminal penalties, await spammers who are caught spamming. Needless to say, you want to make sure that you never spam!

The Internet covers the entire world. There are many different laws in many different jurisdictions pertaining to spam. Plus, losing your Internet service or having your domain blocked due to spam is a matter of contract that varies from provider to provider, each having its own specific rules about spam in its "Acceptable Use Policy." So, how can you possibly avoid spam when there are so many different rules and regulations? The answer is to use common sense. In a subsequent installment, we will discuss the technical rules and contracts, but for now, let us just show you how to use your common sense to avoid spamming.

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