By Adam L. Penenberg
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,67213,00.html
Last week, many netizens cheered when Jeremy Jaynes, the eighth-ranked
spammer in the world, was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Jaynes, who also went by the name Gaven Stubberfield, was famous for
pushing "zoo" porn and operating various spam scams. He fired off
millions of e-mail messages, clogging ISP servers and inboxes with
various come-ons while amassing a fortune estimated at about $24
million. But that's not why he's going to jail. A Loudoun County,
Virginia, jury found him guilty of three counts of forging e-mail
Media Hack Like Martha Stewart, he wasn't convicted of a crime as much
as he was nailed for trying to cover his tracks. Unlike Martha and
other white-collar criminals, he may serve as much time in prison as a
bank robber, rapist or someone who committed manslaughter.
What this tells us is that in the spam game, e-mail isn't the only way
to send a message.
Graham Cluley of Sophos, an antispam and antivirus peddler, said,
"This sentence sends out a strong message to other spammers that their
activities are not going to be tolerated by the U.S. authorities ...
It's likely that Jeremy Jaynes' nine-year sentence will keep a few
spammers awake at night wondering if the rewards are really worth it."
Steve Linford of The Spamhaus Project crowed, "We are very pleased the
Virginia jury recommended nine years. It sends the right message to
the rest of the U.S.-based spammers that jail time is waiting for
And not to be outdone, an Associated Press headline read: "Judge sends
a message: nine years for spammer."
Imagine my surprise when I awoke the next morning and checked one of
my many throwaway webmail accounts, which I keep under various noms de
plume (my favorite is "media_wh0re"). I found the same pile of spam I
always get -- for penile enhancements, Viagra, hot girl-on-girl porn
and lower mortgage rates.
I guess not everyone got the message. And why should they? Jaynes was
prosecuted under a Virginia statute, while many spammers detonate
their spam bombs from other countries. I applaud prosecutors for going
after spammers, but I don't expect that it will have much impact.
"The problem is, we're getting into a war-on-drugs type of situation,"
said Brian McWilliams, author of Spam Kings: The Real Story Behind the
High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills and %*@)#
Enlargements. "Knocking a guy like Jeremy Jaynes out of business
doesn't solve the demand side of the spam problem. There's still a
significant number of people who respond favorably to spam, and as
long as that's true, spammers will keep trying to reach them."
Indeed. Recently, DoubleClick reported that clickthrough rates on
e-mail were still at about 8 percent. With hundreds of millions of
spam messages shooting through cyberspace every year, you do the
math. Unless we can convince people not to click through on these
(often) bawdy ads, perhaps we need to look at things differently.
After all, "people go to jail for mail fraud all the time, but it
doesn't make me less likely to send a letter," pointed out Jeff Rohrs,
president of Optiem, an interactive-marketing agency specializing in
permission-based e-mail marketing. "E-mail is just a bit ahead of the
curve when compared to other digital media because its cost of entry
is so low. What other medium lets you send to millions of people for
pennies? That's why it remains so attractive to spammers."
Citing a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study, Rohrs
believes that consumers are getting used to the nuisance of
spam. Witness the drop in people who say that they are spending less
time with e-mail, from 29 percent last year to 22 percent this year;
and the drop in people who trust e-mail less because of spam, from 62
percent to 53 percent. He would like to see these numbers compared to
traditional media like TV, radio and direct mail.
He asks: "Do people trust TV less because of infomercials? Or mail
less because of annoying mortgage offers that disguise themselves as
bills? My guess is that these things annoy people, but they have
learned to compartmentalize their impact -- the mediums still deliver
value, so consumers are willing to put up with some annoyances for the
Think about that the next time you return from vacation and have to
spend an hour deleting spam.
Adam L. Penenberg is an assistant professor at New York University and the
assistant director of the business and economic reporting program in the
department of journalism.
Copyright 2005 Wired News.
Copyright 2005, Lycos, Inc. Lycos is a registered
trademark of Carnegie Mellon University.
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