inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #76 of 103: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 7 Feb 05 08:11
    
That's interesting about targeting AOL because they were thought to be
more receptive.  I wonder if that's nerd arrogance showing up as a
marketing plan ("those dumb AOL-ers") or if they really tend to be a
little more naive, possibly because they're less experienced with the
internets?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #77 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Mon 7 Feb 05 08:45
    
I think many spammers focused on AOL for the simple reason that they
got a lot of success there. Davis Hawke's penis-pill customers were
almost exclusively AOLers. 

But I don't think it's simply the "newbie-ness" that makes AOLers
prone to buy from spammers. Hakwe and others also had a habit of
harvesting email addresses from the eBay site. The theory being that
these were people comfortable with doing business online and not afraid
to whip out the plastic.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #78 of 103: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 7 Feb 05 11:53
    

Why "spam" -- I mean, why is junk email called "spam," Brian? Do you know
anything about the origin of this usage?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #79 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Mon 7 Feb 05 15:54
    
Well, it's because of the Hormel SPAM product, of course. 

The first use of the term “spam” to refer to junk email and Usenet
messages appeared in late March 1993, after an incident involving a
program called ARMM (Automated Retroactive Minimal Moderation). Created
by Richard Depew, a system administrator in Ohio, ARMM accidentally
posted 200 copies of the same message to the news.admin.policy
newsgroup on March 31, 1993. In response, an Internet user in Australia
compared the ARMM incident to a comedy routine from the British
television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. First broadcast in
1970, the sketch features two customers at a café who discover that
every item on the menu includes Hormel’s SPAM canned meat. At one
point, a group of Vikings enters and loudly sings a song about “spam,
lovely spam, wonderful spam,” drowning out the café customers’
conversation. 

There's a good history of the term spam here:
http://www.templetons.com/brad/spamterm.html
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #80 of 103: Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Mon 7 Feb 05 17:15
    
In my mind, I'm going to call Ed "Berliner" from now on, using my
Kennedy voice.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #81 of 103: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Tue 8 Feb 05 23:16
    
Brian, it seems from the endnotes to the book that you did a lot of
undercover work to learn about Hawke's spam operation, and in fact
outed him, opening the door for the lawsuit from AOL.  Can you talk
about that experience?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #82 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Wed 9 Feb 05 08:53
    
David, when Hawke kept refusing to talk to me about his business, I
signed up as an affiliate using a fake name. That enabled me to see a
bit more about how his spam operation worked. On a tip from another
affiliate, I also found out that Hawke left all the order logs totally
exposed at his web site. So I was able to see the scale of his
enterprise and the diverse nature of his customer base.

Before I published "Spam Kings," I wrote a couple articles about my
findings for Wired News and Salon. I think that may have provided some
additional impetus for AOL to sue Hawke. But AOL had plenty of reasons
without me. Its members were sending in hundreds of thousands of
complaints about Hawke's spams.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #83 of 103: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 9 Feb 05 10:07
    
Interesting.  So what's it like being an affiliate? Did he send you
marketing materials?  How much did he try to help you help him make big
bucks?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #84 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Wed 9 Feb 05 11:04
    
Hawke provided affiliates with a variety of HTML and plain-text emails
they could send. He also had a list of recommended subject lines for
the emails. Every couple of days, he would email a list of proxies to
affiliates, through which they could route their spams to avoid
detection. 

Hawke also maintained a site where affiliates could check their sales
stats and request commission payments. It was totally insecure. No
login required to view the site. Hawke took all sorts of pains to
conceal his own identity, but he left other peoples' credit card
numbers and addresses in plain view.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #85 of 103: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 9 Feb 05 13:45
    
That does seem odd to me.  Why would someone who was so careful about
his own identity not be more careful about covering all of his tracks? 
Especially someone who came from the paranoid environment of the white
power movement?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #86 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Wed 9 Feb 05 17:21
    
That puzzled me too. I think Hawke's sloppiness stems from arrogance.
The chessplayer and honors student simply thought he was smarter than
his opponents. I think he also (wrongly) assumed he wasn't on the radar
of anti-spammers. Of course, Hawke is much more vigilant now that he's
the central character in a book (and the target of a
multi-million-dollar lawsuit). :)
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #87 of 103: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Thu 10 Feb 05 11:03
    
Heh.  That'd wake me up, too.

Do you think that arrogance is a uniting characteristic of both sides
of the spam wars?  It seems like that might be why they hate each other
so much: they're too similar for comfort.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #88 of 103: Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Thu 10 Feb 05 11:45
    
 How so?  I've known a lot of people who are passionate about fighting
spam, and most of them are system administrators who are at wit's end
because spam is ruining their life.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #89 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Thu 10 Feb 05 13:10
    
I think it's true that some anti-spammers see the spam issue in black
and white. Some are very suspicious of attempts to dress up spamming in
euphemisms, such as "opt-out marketing." To these folks, any
unsolicited commercial email is spam, even if it complies with the
federal law. And when mainstream, household-name companies spam, it's
particularly offensive to some people.

Similarly, there's been some controversy in the anti-spamming
community over spam fighters who have crossed over and gone to work for
email advertisers. "Spam Kings" gets into the stories of Karen
Hoffmann and Kelly Molloy, both of whom start off fighting spam but end
up consulting to email advertisers. Both seemed to believe they could
solve the problem from the inside. Hoffmann became especially bitter at
her former anti-spammer friends who abandoned her. She could have been
as asset, but they cut her off, saw her as a traitor.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #90 of 103: Public persona (jmcarlin) Thu 10 Feb 05 13:21
    

>  dress up spamming in euphemisms, such as "opt-out marketing."

To me 'opt-out' is a euphemism. 'opt-in' is legitimate. If I choose to
receive ads, that's up to me. I would accept opt-out if it were like the
government telemarketing registry and any spammers who abused it were
"hung by the neck until dead" but I don't see that as likely.

I can see the suspicion about people who work for email people. But I
would personnally differentiate honest people making honest attempts to
get 'on the side of the angels' or selling out. I would try to keep an
open mind.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #91 of 103: Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Thu 10 Feb 05 18:54
    
I agree that many of the anti-spammers tend too see things as too
black and white -- but I also think that things usually *are* pretty
much black and white. For me, it comes down to: any unsolicited email I
get trying to sell me something is spam, and therefore, is bad.

There's no comparison between spammers and anti-spammers. Spammers are
scumbags. They are lowbrow types who would be running some other kind
of fraud if spam didn't exist. There are various types (chickenboners,
unctuous salesman types, disingenuous schemers who pretend they are
doing all they can to no be annoying, etc. But they are all scumbags.)

Anti-spammers are often shrill and obnoxious zealots, but they aren't
trying to pull one over on anybody. It's a whole different personality
type and they operate on a whole different motive.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #92 of 103: Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Fri 11 Feb 05 07:22
    
 Does the book get into stock-promoting spam?  Are stock spams
basically a pump and dump scam with the pumping occurring via email?
I've always assumed that that was the case.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #93 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Fri 11 Feb 05 10:31
    
Rafe, "Spam Kings" tell the story of Rodona Garst, who was busted by
the SEC a few years back for running pump-and-dumps via spam. But her
story also illustrates the militant tactics sometimes used by
anti-spammers. Garst's computer was hacked by an anti, who posted the
hard drive contents on the Internet, including semi-naked photos of
Garst, along with incriminating ICQ chat logs. For the gory details,
see

http://elias.rhi.hi.is/premier.cluelessfucks.com/index2.htm
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #94 of 103: Public persona (jmcarlin) Fri 11 Feb 05 11:29
    

Brian,

What do you feel about stories like this?

http://www.technewsworld.com/story/news/40524.html
Microsoft, Pfizer File Lawsuits over Viagra Spam

Do you think such lawsuits going to have any meaningful impact on spam?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #95 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Fri 11 Feb 05 12:29
    
Well, lawsuits are an important arrow in the quiver. But as long as
spam is profitable, new spammers will take the place of guys who get
sued out of business. 

As for this specific lawsuit, I don't expect it will have a
perceptible impact on the amount of Viagra spam we receive. 

Seems that Pfizer's main concern in the lawsuit is cutting off
unathorized sales of *generic* Viagra. (They also sued 30 sites last
August for selling generic Viagra.) I wonder if they'd be as aggressive
about suing spammers of brand-name Viagra.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #96 of 103: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 11 Feb 05 14:40
    

The whole effort to stop spammers seems like an impossible game of Whack-a-
Mole. Bop one on the head and another one pops up over ---> there. As you
say, Brian, as long as there's money to be made, there's no real way to
put a halt to it without putting other limitations on the 'Net that most of
us would not tolerate.

This has been a fascinating discussion. It's hard to believe that two weeks
have flown by already. I want to thank you, Brian, for joining us here in
Inkwell, and for writing the book in the first place. And thanks to you,
David, for so ably leading the conversation.

This thread will remain here indefinitely, and if you want to continue
talking, please feel free to do so. Even though our virtual spotlight has
turned to new guests, we're more than happy to have multiple conversations
going on here. 

Also, I understand you have something new in the works, Brian, so maybe
you might need to get back to that. However, I hope you have time to tell 
us a bit about it before you sign off.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #97 of 103: one big petri dish (jnfr) Fri 11 Feb 05 14:41
    
Wonderful topic. Thanks for talking with us, Brian.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #98 of 103: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Fri 11 Feb 05 15:32
    
Thanks, Brian, for your insight into this world, and thanks to
everyone who joined in the discussion.

Anyone want my fake rolex?
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #99 of 103: Brian McWilliams (bmcwilliams) Fri 11 Feb 05 16:22
    
David, I'm a Timex type of guy, but thanks anyway. :)

It was *my* pleasure to be Inkwell's guest. Thanks everyone for your
great questions and comments.

In case anyone wants to keep jabbering about spam and/or "Spam Kings,"
I promise to check in here regularly. Or feel free to visit my spam
blog, http://www.spamkings.biz.

Regarding that new project in the works, it's a book with the inside
story of another Net-noir subculture: the organized criminal gangs who
run sites like Shadowcrew.com and CarderPlanet.net.  With the help of a
key insider, I'll be providing a behind-the-scenes view of some major
Internet phishing scams, break-ins, and extortion plots -- as well as
law-enforcement efforts to shut them down.
  
inkwell.vue.236 : Brian McWilliams, "Spam Kings"
permalink #100 of 103: one big petri dish (jnfr) Fri 11 Feb 05 17:07
    
Can't wait!
  

More...



Members: Enter the conference to participate

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us