Spam, Egg, Sausage and Spam

By Matthew Saltzman

Perhaps you have noticed, as I have, the recent surge in the number of popular press articles reporting a sharp increase in the amount of spam being sent in the last few months. If your experience is like mine, you can confirm these reports yourself. There certainly seems to me to be a much larger volume of spam, and the offenders are resorting to a wider variety of techniques for getting their ads before your eyes.

My favorites in the irony department include spammers selling spamming services: "Would you like to send an e-mail advertisement to OVER 11,953,000 PEOPLE DAILY for FREE?"

That one also says, "If you do not already have a product or service to sell, we can supply you with one."

And (from another purveyor of "targeted direct e-mail"):

"Note: We strongly oppose the use of spam e-mail and do not want anyone who does not wish to receive our mailings to receive them. This is not spam. This e-mail was sent to you because your e-mail is part of a targeted opt-in list."

Of course, I have never opted in, but somebody obviously did so on my behalf — probably the originator himself.

A lot of the spam I receive is directed to iol_editor@mail.informs.org, which is consistent with the assertion that a high profile on the Web is pretty much a spam magnet. There's not much I can do to avoid that — I want to hear from IOL readers with problems or suggestions. But as a consequence, I can't easily avoid having that address harvested by spammers.

INFORMS members face a similar dilemma. We want our e-mail addresses to be easy to find for colleagues, but that means that they are more or less available for harvesting and misuse. There is no perfect solution to this dilemma — there is no way to let colleagues know where to contact you about the presentation you are giving at the next annual meeting without letting other people know where to send you solicitations to "Make Money Fast!"

At INFORMS and IOL, we have two concerns about e-mail: (1) we view e-mail as an important tool for communicating with our members, but one that should not be abused; (2) we want to minimize the likelihood that information members provide to us will fall into the hands of spammers.

INFORMS takes several measures to ensure that e-mail to members is not abused. Chapter 2 of the INFORMS Policies and Procedures Manual (www.informs.org/General/PolicyManual/) outlines these measures. They include:


- Opting out. Members who do not wish to receive any e-mail from INFORMS may so specify on their renewal forms, or by following the instructions included in each e-mail sent by INFORMS. We are currently working on allowing members to opt out of mailing lists for each of the subdivisions as well.


- Limited volume. Mail to the general membership (or significant subgroups) is limited to two messages per month (the E-Newsletter). Sending of additional messages (e.g., the election reminder) requires the approval of several INFORMS officers. Some additional messages can be sent to groups with particular common interests (such as the guidelines for speakers at annual meetings, which are sent only to first authors on presentations).


- Subdivision list moderation. While subdivision mailing lists are not subject to the above traffic limitations, lists that are hosted by IOL are established as fully moderated, so that the list administrator must approve every post. Also, posting is limited to list members. (These settings, as well as the determination of what posts are appropriate, are under the control of the subdivision list administrators.)

In my opinion, e-mail from INFORMS to its members is not spam. E-mail is simply one mechanism by which the organization communicates with its members. If we were to acquire the SIAM membership directory and e-mail all of them soliciting INFORMS memberships, that would be spam.

INFORMS and IOL take several measures to minimize the likelihood that information members provide to us will fall into the hands of spammers:


- No sale. We do not sell or otherwise distribute members' e-mail addresses. Other organizations with news of interest to members must submit the information to be included in our own regular mailings.


- Subdivision list management. In addition to moderation and the provision that only members may post, the list of recipients is accessible only to list members, and it is displayed in a way that makes the addresses difficult to harvest.


- Online directory. The online membership directory is displayed so that each individual member's information appears on a separate page. This makes harvesting large numbers of e-mail addresses from the directory extremely difficult.

At IOL, we are always on the lookout for other loopholes and ways to close them. But what should you do in response to spam? Don't reply, it just encourages them. Report offenders to their ISPs, but make sure you have the right ISP (spammers often relay their mail through innocent third parties). Support legislation. Enlist the help of your system administrator. Information and assistance is available at various Web sites, including www.spam.abuse.net, www.cauce.org, www.spamrecycle.com and www.spamcop.net. These organizations are not opposed to online commerce, but they are working to prevent abuse.



Matthew Saltzman (mjs@ces.clemson.edu) is an associate professor of mathematical Sciences at Clemson University and the editor of Informs Online.