Spammers have an unquenchable thirst for new destinations for their valuable communications. One way of slaking that craving is to send robots out on the Worldwide Web looking for email addresses on web pages. This page gets a lot of visitors. Most of them are human. Some of them are robots who are probably more humane than their masters.
Many address-scraper robots look simply for the "mailto:" string, and grab their ill-gotten prizes from those. Others dig deeper and grab any string with the "@" character in it. This is one reason that I changed the original victim's name to "Nadine" for this documentary -- I knew that eventually the literal "firstname.lastname@example.org" would become a fixture of spammer lists just as the account that inspired this page has become.
As of 19-Jul-2003 14:20 the total count of spam sent to the various local addresses that can be scraped from these pages is: 3,482.
Here are some samples:
Imagine my surprise to discover that I had somehow "EXPRESSED INTEREST IN PRODUCTS THAT WE CAN SAVE YOU MONEY ON", as the J.C. Morris & Company spam to the contact email address for this page so quaintly put it. I was even more delighted to find that the made-up account "email@example.com" had also joined the happy parade of opters-in to money-saving offers.
It was comforting to learn that this gem isn't spam at all, it is "an innovative way to use the Internet". The messages assure me that the firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com accounts were "...selected off the Internet based on your voter demographics" rather than having been scraped from this web page by ratware. What a relief.
The use of a server belonging to Hutchison Telecommunications (Hong Kong) Limited to deliver the message; the presence of fraudulent header entries designed to cause a flood of misdirected complaints to AOL, MSN, vosn.net and cyberec.com; the use of a web site hosted in Spain... all these things greatly increase my confidence in the wisdom and integrity of this candidate. Yup.
TERMINOLOGY NOTE: Unfortunately, early on in the Spam Wars, the term "harvesting" somehow began to be used to describe the process of collecting lists of email addresses from public places such as web sites, newsgroups or personal profiles. The word "harvest", however, implies that the collector has in some way actually worked for his gain -- has plowed, sown, cultivated, irrigated, tended and finally reaped what was planted. Because of its destructive and extractive nature, the correct verb for the collection of email addresses from public places is more properly to stripmine, to suction dredge, or perhaps to driftnet. Any term that implies minimal effort, indiscriminate mass extraction, serious environmental damage and exporting one's business costs to the world at large will do; however "harvest" is simply not on.
A large number of visitors to this page were referred here by search engines, and many of those seekers have come in search of references to one or more of the Valuable Insurance Services that Nadine has unfortunately failed to avail herself of. At least one of those visitors was a robot that looked at the pages that contain insurance-related strings and decided unilaterally that the the holder of any email address mentioned must be an insurance broker breathlessly awaiting new offers.
The address most likely to be found is, surprisingly, "firstname.lastname@example.org", the fictitious account I made up to hide the identity of the original "Nadine", and so "email@example.com" has now become the address of an Insurance Professional -- at least as far as the operator of the robot was concerned. As a consequence, an outfit sending from various addresses @insurancemail.net has begun bombarding firstname.lastname@example.org with important offers.
One of these is linked below, but alas contains a stern Not For Public Dissemination notice. So, you probably shouldn't click here unless you are (a) an Insurance Broker or (b) someone who thinks it is profoundly silly to try to require people not to use an irresponsibly broadcast message in any fashion they see fit.
Like so many of their bedfellows, insurancemail.net pay no attention to rejections, and have been averaging about one delivery attempt per day since they were plonked on 24-Mar-2002.
This one is included as an apt illustration: "I saw your web page about robots scraping addresses from web pages for spam lists, and thought I'd scrape your address from your web page so I could spam you about my search-engine spamming service." Where is Oscar Gordon when you need him?
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