Thursday, May 30, 2002

Can the spam


Strangers invading my house

map
        While I was lazing around last week, dangling my feet in a lake and reading bad novels, people all over the country were working tirelessly to make my life more complete.

        People I don't even know were figuring out ways for me to get a new car. They had arranged for me to consolidate my debts and enlarge my breasts and/or penis. They wanted to give me free trips and cell phones and university degrees and pearl-white teeth.

        They sent jokes and offers of friendship. Julie, for instance, said she would like to get to know me better. I could click on her homepage for pictures she had taken of herself in her underwear. As I cannot even bear the sight of myself in underwear, I did not take advantage of this opportunity. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings.

Peevish solicitor

        Bobby sounded a little peeved that I hadn't been in touch yet about the inkjets he had reserved for me. Kristin wants to help me lose weight. Kelly is hot, which has prompted her to make naked videos of herself with her roommates. I guess this is some kind of ad for air conditioning. Sometimes it's hard to tell. Darlena appeared to be hoping just to say “hi,” but it turns out she was selling vitamins. Angie's topic was “summer,” which was actually an investment tip.

        During the seven days I was unavailable to sort my e-mails, hundreds arrived at my desk, in my personal computer. Which is not really so personal when you consider that Bobby and Julie and Kelly can come aboard any time they feel like it.

        “Real” advertising — magazines, newspapers, billboards, TV, radio and direct mail — costs real money. The Web has several offers of CDs with more than 10 million e-mail addresses for under $200. And if I get up to get a bowl of Doritos during a TV commercial, I do not have to click delete when I return to the couch.

Curiously dilatory

        It took more than an hour my first day back at work to find the “real” e-mails. You know, the ones from people I actually know. Or from readers I would like to get to know, even if they are not hot or posing in their underwear.

        Telemarketers are regulated. So are ads via fax. But a government willing to get into our medicine cabinets and our bedrooms finds itself curiously dilatory in regulating companies beaming porn and unsolicited ads into our homes. Congress is considering a law to strengthen authority of the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. If the bill passes, unsolicited commercial e-mail will have to include an identifier, an opt-out feature and the sender's physical address.

        We are cautious about the franking privilege — reserving free postage for members of Congress, GIs at war, ex-presidents. In the 1860s, before the rubber stamp, one congressman boasted that if the envelopes were properly arranged, he could sign as many as 300 per hour. With a dial-up connection and a PC, a spammer can send hundreds of thousands of messages per hour. AOL estimates 10 million unsolicited commercial e-mail messages are sent every day. That company has full-time staff dealing with spam-related problems, as do MCI, Sprint, AT&T, Hotmail, EarthLink, CompuServe and Prodigy.

        Guess who eventually pays their salaries.

        I'll give you a hint. It's not Bobby or Elizabeth or Kelly or Darlena.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard Fridays on WVXU radio (91.7 FM).

       



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