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Spam King Living High In The Bayou
July 1, 2002 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Spam King Living High In The Bayou Ronnie Scelson, a professional spammer, openly discusses his business and attitudes about spam. Reminiscent of Barry Dennis's infamous "Why I love spam" article recently featured on C|Net.
posted by dayvin (33 comments total)

 
Clean-shaven and slightly pudgy, he's dressed in black jeans and a black short-sleeved jersey. Around his neck, he wears a gold necklace with a pendant of Scooby-Doo, his favorite cartoon character.

His fascination with Scooby Doo is creepy.

"As far as the anti-spam organizations, they just basically want to get rid of e-mail [advertising] altogether. ... If they didn't ask for it, they don't want it. And it's not that simple of a business."

Wow, not only is he a scooby doo, fan, but a genius too! Its ironic that so many people get to live large off of theft, while others work honestly all their lives without the same kind of benefits.

People should be able to send spammers an invoice for their time. I like the tactic of ISP's banning spammers, it would be a shame if Scelson won his lawsuit, the ISPs have a legal right to discriminate (deny service).
posted by insomnyuk at 9:32 AM on July 1, 2002


More on Ronnie at Spamhaus's Register of Known Spam Operations.
posted by muckster at 9:44 AM on July 1, 2002


Mmmm....Spam Jambalaya
posted by ColdChef at 10:16 AM on July 1, 2002


I have no problem with spam, it seems like a legitimate way to advertise to me. I don't think it costs that much time if you don't actually READ the stuff that is sent out... Just look at the subject and delete it. Big deal, you'd probably deleting other messages such as forwards that are just junk e-mail anyway, so do a mass delete and forget about it. It's the same to me as banner advertisements that proliferate all over the internet. Get used to it, it's how the world works. Ohh, and kudos to that man, working his way out of a trailer park and achieving his dream, good for him.
posted by banished at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2002


insomnyuk: People should be able to send spammers an invoice for their time.

I do this quite frequently, actually (If I can figure out *who* it is that sent it, that is). If anything, the people who receive them write back and get all pissed off and scream obscenities. All of this gets forwarded to their ISP & upstreams asking them to cancel services for TOS violations. Example: I help run a music site, which was repeatedly spammed by the same person. At first, it bordered on direct-marketing. But after at least 15 messages telling them to stop, we considered it spam/harassment, and I invoiced the owner $1000 for every message he sent (including the message he sent saying he wouldn't send emails anymore). I copied his ISPs on every communication. He stopped emailing us, and had his lawyer fax us a letter saying they wouldn't pay the invoices, but they would at least stop. I never intended to collect the money, but the fact that he had to incur legal fees to respond to my letters, as well as a written statement by his attorneys that I can refer to if he should ever spam us again, made the experience work out nicely for us. None of this is possible for the automated "CUM NOW FOR FREE!!!!!!" type of emails. Those go directly to spamcop now.

banished: I have no problem with spam, it seems like a legitimate way to advertise to me.

You mean legitimate in the illegal way, right?
posted by Hankins at 12:37 PM on July 1, 2002


Illegal where?
posted by banished at 12:50 PM on July 1, 2002


insomnyuk: People should be able to send spammers an invoice for their time.

I do this quite frequently, actually (If I can figure out *who* it is that sent it, that is). If anything, the people who receive them write back and get all pissed off and scream obscenities. All of this gets forwarded to their ISP & upstreams asking them to cancel services for TOS violations. Example: I help run a music site, which was repeatedly spammed by the same person. At first, it bordered on direct-marketing. But after at least 15 messages telling them to stop, we considered it spam/harassment, and I invoiced the owner $1000 for every message he sent (including the message he sent saying he wouldn't send emails anymore). I copied his ISPs on every communication. He stopped emailing us, and had his lawyer fax us a letter saying they wouldn't pay the invoices, but they would at least stop. I never intended to collect the money, but the fact that he had to incur legal fees to respond to my letters, as well as a written statement by his attorneys that I can refer to if he should ever spam us again, made the experience work out nicely for us. None of this is possible for the automated "CUM NOW FOR FREE!!!!!!" type of emails. Those go directly to spamcop now.

banished: I have no problem with spam, it seems like a legitimate way to advertise to me.

You mean legitimate in the illegal way, right?
posted by Hankins at 12:51 PM on July 1, 2002


Banished: I can think of three ways spam is illegal in most jurisdictions.

1. Spammers typically break the TOS in their agreement with their upstream providers. They can only usually get bandwidth by having a bunch of providers lined up and moving from one to another as they get busted.

2. Spammers typically provide imaginary email addresses as the sender - or worse, frame some innocent party. This is fraud, as far as I know. (And you might ask yourself why legitimate businesspeople need to cover their tracks so much...)

3. Spammers typically convert other people's mail servers to their own use. See, the real pain of spam isn't for users. It's for mail server owners, who come in one morning to discover that they've hit their bandwidth cap, their mailbox contains thousands of complaints and bounces, and their upstream provider is about to yank them. The fine details are going to depend on the law where you live, but where I live, (New Zealand) it is arguably illegal now, and definitely will be in a couple of months. Spammers take your gear for a joy ride, at their profit and your cost. By analogy, this would be like me stealing your car at night for my pizza delivery job.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:42 PM on July 1, 2002


Illegal where?

Well, Washington for one...
posted by kindall at 1:49 PM on July 1, 2002


SO what if I were to use my own resources, I created my own ISP, my own mailservers, and I mass-e-mailed many people using my own e-mail address. What is wrong with that? Not saying that this particular situation is a case in point, but just curious.
posted by banished at 2:18 PM on July 1, 2002


Well, Washington for one...

Also Nevada.
posted by rushmc at 2:20 PM on July 1, 2002


If you did that, banished, I would say that you would be in an ethical but not a legally bad position. But I strongly suspect that you would find it economically unfeasible, even if you could get an upstream provider who would feed a spamhaus. The fact that spammers don't already do this lends credence to that view.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2002


Domain (edited)
Bytes Rec 249,029,941
Messages Received 23,276
Messages Delivered 5,088 (21.9%)

78.1% of all mail sent to my users yesterday was filtered as spam by Postini.

That number is up from 50% about 6 months ago.

We currently spend 8% of our gross income in services and admin time to prevent spammers from crashing our systems or stealing our bandwidth, and fully expect that to rise to over 10% by the end of the year.
posted by dglynn at 3:03 PM on July 1, 2002


What is wrong with that?

Well, for one, most people have a limited amount of space for e-mail and you're basically costing people money by taking away their disk space without their permission. Furthermore, your spam might end up filling up someone's inbox completely and force someone to not be able to receive important pieces of e-mail.
posted by gyc at 3:15 PM on July 1, 2002


Actually, it's important to distinguish legit mass-emailing from spam.

Mail listservers technically "mass-email". Sometimes I give my email address to businesses I deal with regularly, and if they send mail to everyone who opted-in, that's legit too. So banished, no problem with you being a specialist mass emailer.

You cross the line into spamming and illegitimacy when you indiscriminately send promotional messages to a whole bunch people who haven't given permission.

Slimy Scelson, you'll notice, calls his business "Opt-In Marketing" - cheeky bastard.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:33 PM on July 1, 2002


It is interesting to me that so many more people get up in arms about spam emails (now or soon-to-be illegal) than about the (perfectly legal) equivalent that comes to their snailmailbox. Especially considering that the latter involves a lot more waste and expense. Why the double standard? Telemarketers also fall into the tolerated category. (Disclaimer: I'm against all unsolicited sales pitches.)
posted by rushmc at 3:56 PM on July 1, 2002


Especially considering that the latter involves a lot more waste and expense. Why the double standard?

No double standard - mass snailmailers pay their own postage, which pays for the resources devoted by the postal service to deliver it.

As far as telemarketers go, surely you're aware of the backlash against them? If not, go to www.dianamey.com, and read the story of a West Virginia housewife who got fed up with telemarketers and now has collected almost $100,000 from suing various illegal telemarketing operations.

Myself, I've gotten a telemarketer or two fired. I've even threatened to sue one entity and am now party to a confidential settlement with that entity. Draw your own conclusions about what it would take to buy my silence.

Once more into the breach, my friends.
posted by mikewas at 4:26 PM on July 1, 2002


Get used to it, it's how the world works. — banished

Not my world.
posted by nicwolff at 5:08 PM on July 1, 2002


rushmc: Why the double standard?

No double standard for me. I contacted ADVO a while back and had them remove my address from their snail-mail list. If you're unfamiliar with ADVO, they are the ones responsible for ShopWise advertisements, and the "Have You Seen Us" (self-link) missing persons mailers. You can remove your address by downloading their PDF form and snail-mailing it in (requires signature, etc). Takes a little while because their materials are printed a while in advance, but it's been effective!
posted by Hankins at 6:44 PM on July 1, 2002


It is interesting to me that so many more people get up in arms about spam emails (now or soon-to-be illegal) than about the (perfectly legal) equivalent that comes to their snailmailbox.

A couple points on this. mikewas nabs the fact that most of this mail is legally theft of service by using open-relays.

Second, email is checked many, many times a day. People have beeps and whistles and other crap going off telling them they have a message. Its very inconvenient to get up and delete yet another spam. The postal service is not perfect but its a once-a-day thing and because of the real market forces at work it costs money to send the mailings out. Spam can be sent for next to nothing or literally nothing at all.

Third, Kids don't get porno mail because of liability reasons regarding sending inappropriate content to minors. Spammers have no problem telling a minor that he needs a bigger dick and/or breasts. Or send you a link to a page full of nudity. Everyone has an email address today, even gradeschool kids. There's a line to be drawn on the appropriateness of advertising and it has been drawn in mainstream advertising except spam. Mainly because its illegal to begin with.

Fourth, a recent spam survey showed that most spam are outright cons, misleading, or are guilty of false advertising. Postal spam isn't an exception from this, but its no where near as bad as email spam.

Spam has never been 'soon to be legal.' Some courts have declared it free speech regardless of its illegal transport (thats like me pasting over a commercial billboard because of the first amendment) and has powerful friends like the American Chamber of Commerce. Though I don't think they're as pro-spam as they used to be.
posted by skallas at 7:10 PM on July 1, 2002


Tying what mikewas said in with what I said earlier, rush: the spam business model relies on theft of service. The DMA people love the idea of spam, but you'll notice that no legit direct mail company has moved into spam. The low response rate is only profitable to the spammer and spammer clients because the incremental cost of each mail is virtually zero - and that's only true because someone else's infrastructure was abused.

I do think there's also some emotional effect at work too. I'm used to junk in my letterbox, but somehow my email box is more mine. Every message that turns out not to be for me is a deceptive disappointment, a thrill of anticipation crushed, a neat package addressed to me with a turd inside it.

And of course, snail mail imposes some minumum standards of quality, legality, and relevance. I don't get (as I did twice this week in spam) leaflets advertising zoophile porn from Russia in my letterbox. Or pitching for a rubber manufacturing plant in China. Or in an Asian character set. Or with a viral payload...
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:50 PM on July 1, 2002


oops - should have read skallas more closely. Exactly.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:57 PM on July 1, 2002


Especially considering that [snailmail]involves a lot more waste and expense [than spam].

It doesn't, though. It's just that spammers push the waste and expense onto 3rd parties who happen to have exposed their mail servers by mistake. One of the great spammer lies is that spam is harmless and free.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:00 PM on July 1, 2002


The pornography argument really only addresses the porn subset of spam. It would be pretty easy to criminalize the porn without touching the rest.

And I don't see how the "it's more annoying with its beeps and whistles" argument holds much weight. Either unsolicited advertising is wrong or it isn't. Yes, the potential for abuse is far greater with email, given the nature of the medium, but abuse is abuse--why tolerate any level of it?

Skallas, as mentioned, spam has already been made illegal in some states. So the fact that doing so on the national level would be very difficult due to the special interests may become moot.
posted by rushmc at 8:01 PM on July 1, 2002


And I don't see how the "it's more annoying with its beeps and whistles" argument holds much weight. Either unsolicited advertising is wrong or it isn't.

I don't agree with your yes or no logic. Advertising has many limits and the current laws reflect a more 'shades of gray' view than a yes or no approach, and for good reason. When people were fighting to put some regulation into billboard advertising that was cluttering the highways every 10 feet the question wasn't some logical fallacy like, "Hey then ALL advertising is bad." The question was, "What is wrong with this and what can we do about this."

Bans on liqour and tobacco products weren't a yes or no question either but one of regulation.

The same might happen to spam. Sorry, I don't have your cheery outlook on spam. Its 2002, spam has gotten worse as predicited and a pro-business administration is calling the shots. The anti-spam lobby is not powerful enough yet and the government shows no sign of regulating this stuff out of the kindness of their hearts and technical issues such as ISP costs, theft of service, etc mean little to the average joe.

Unsolicited email is wrong in my opinion in the for the reasons mentioned ealier and because of its bulk. Imagine the equivalant in postal mail. I would have 100 lbs of dead tree waiting for me every week. Taking a purely yes or no approach ignores the unique nature of electronic mail, how people use it, and proper ways of regulating or banning it. I don't like the postal spam but it isn't as big as a problem. At least for me.

When the shit does hit the fan in Washington I fully expect spammers like our Cajun buddy here to make concessions like proving an actual opt-in, putting ADV in a header, etc. In the meantime they rule the playground.
posted by skallas at 8:21 PM on July 1, 2002


Yes, the potential for abuse is far greater with email, given the nature of the medium, but abuse is abuse--why tolerate any level of it?

Because the anti-spamming crowd actually cares about fairness and compromise instead of the 'might makes right' approach of spammers.

Abuse is abuse, but telemarketers and postal spammers are easy to track down and opt-out from. The especially abusive deserve to be dealt harshly because of their actions and lack of accountability.
posted by skallas at 8:27 PM on July 1, 2002


Especially considering that the latter involves a lot more waste and expense. Why the double standard?

No double standard - mass snailmailers pay their own postage, which pays for the resources devoted by the postal service to deliver it.

As far as telemarketers go, surely you're aware of the backlash against them? If not, go to www.dianamey.com, and read the story of a West Virginia housewife who got fed up with telemarketers and now has collected almost $100,000 from suing various illegal telemarketing operations.

Myself, I've gotten a telemarketer or two fired. I've even threatened to sue one entity and am now party to a confidential settlement with that entity. Draw your own conclusions about what it would take to buy my silence.

Once more into the breach, my friends.
posted by mikewas at 8:32 PM on July 1, 2002


rush, we tolerate unsolicited direct advertising in general because the calculus of frequency, annoyance and cost means we don't stir ourselves to combat it (although some posters have pointed out that their personal threshold is reached in some cases).

Spam pushes the bulk of the cost on to 3rd party victims, is hugely frequent unless blocked, and by virtue of its dodgy content is annoying to boot.

And skallas, I don't care about opt-in vs opt-out nearly as much as I care about stealing bandwidth, cycles, disk and admin time for their own business, and framing innocent organisations and people for the crime. I believe that if organisations prosecuted spammers who relayed mail through them, spam would be uneconomic.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:44 PM on July 1, 2002


"To him, Internet e-mail is just another vehicle for advertising - like billboards, newspapers and the sides of buses."

Ok, every time this guy is in his car next to a bus with an ad on it, just to be fair, he should be required to force the bus to the side of the road, get out, stare at the ad for a moment, then physically remove it from the bus, put it in his trunk, take it home, and then somehow dispose of it once he gets there. Also, he should be required to do this about 50 times a day.

Yeah, kudos to this guy and every other parasite conman out there. Shyeah. At least I hardly ever get any spam in my snail mail.
posted by Poagao at 12:37 AM on July 2, 2002


When people were fighting to put some regulation into billboard advertising that was cluttering the highways every 10 feet the question wasn't some logical fallacy like, "Hey then ALL advertising is bad."

I'm not suggesting an "all advertising is bad" attitude. Only an "all unsolicited advertising that intrudes into your home against your wishes is bad" attitude.

I don't like the postal spam but it isn't as big as a problem. At least for me.

And that's what I'm objecting to, I guess, the idea that our relative individual annoyance threshholds for each flavor of spam should be the arbiter of what is accepted. This breaks down quickly, since, as seen even in this thread, some people have no problem at all with email spam. I'd much rather base a ban on a general principle regarding intrusiveness, resource-wasting, and an individual's right to avoid solicitation.
posted by rushmc at 10:00 AM on July 2, 2002


It seems sad that advertisers have us more sensitized to their rights to shove advertising before our eyes every moment of the day than to our own rights as human beings (not consumers) to peace of mind, freedom from molestation, and a liveable environment. Not everything can or should be quantified as a commodity, measured out, and auctioned off.
posted by rushmc at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2002


a pro-business administration is calling the shots

Since when is spam a pro-business interest? Real, legitimate businesses suffer (note bits above about 3rd party costs) actual economic costs of spam. My personal cost is annoyance, but here in Virginia, companies like Verizon have had enough and are taking advantage of state laws to sue spammers for big damages.

Since, as previously noted, most spam is actually wire fraud by 21st century means, why would legitimate businesses want to subsidize it?
posted by mikewas at 9:34 PM on July 2, 2002


with broadband companies starting to implement bit caps, I'm thinking i should charge the spammers for every piece of email they force me to download.
posted by Iax at 10:11 PM on July 2, 2002


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