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05th of Feb. 2010

What’s the Point of Spam?

By Yaron Schoen


Related links that inspired or helped me create this article.

I don’t get it. Am I missing something here or is spam just an annoying thing that has no real good reason for its existence? I am definitely not new to the internet, but in my 11 years in this industry, I never really gave it that much thought. Lately many questions arose in my head. Why does spam exist? What is its actual purpose? I am assuming spam would not exist if there was no money in it for the spammers, and if there was, how is this money actually made? With estimates that 84-95% of all e-mail in the world consists of generous millionaires that want to shell out cash, and sex hungry enlargement notifications, there has to be some good reason behind it all. No? 

Comment Spam

Many of you may have noticed (hopefully many of you have not) I have been attacked lately by comment spam on my blog. Maybe attacked isn’t the right word, more like bombarded. This is understandable if the spam is related to the topic of the blog post, but I am taking a wild guess here that my readers are not that interested in buying Viagra and even if they were, I don’t think that my blog would be the right place for one to look for it.  Let’s even go a step further and pretend that Viagra IS relevant to my readers. I believe that getting it by clicking on a link named xsuzket.com in a comment is a bit sketchy… If I was looking to spend money on Viagra, would I really be interested in giving my credit card details to anyone but viagra.com? I understand that comment spammers try to raise their ranking by spreading their “love” throughout the interwebs. But is that the sole reason? If so can they try to make it look a bit more appealing and a little less crude? I mean guys, put some effort into the way the comment looks…

Email Spam

Here is a quick info-graphic that I created based on McAfee’s 2009 Q2 Threat Report.

If there is a somewhat logical reason behind comment spam, here is a real incomprehensible gem: The “You Have Won A Billion Dollars” email.  Is it really worth spending all that time and money sending this spam? Don’t we as a public know better then to give our bank info, social security number, date of birth and favorite color to some random dude in Africa that inherited a zillion dinaros? I mean, even Oprah warned us about this already!  Let’s say the spammers find the one person in America who still hasn’t heard about this trick, I would assume this person would be experiencing some kind of financial difficulty to willingly give his or her bank details to someone they don’t know. It seems that the chances are low to find any kind of money in that account… Call this another wild guess, but I find it hard to believe that Bill Gates (or some other super rich person) would feel comfortable giving his bank account info to his own accountants without a full background check and over protective contracts, let alone to some guy he never heard of in Zair. So what do these spammers aim to achieve?

What’s My Point?

I guess I don’t really have a point in this post and I am just letting out steam (as I said before, lately the spammers have been out to get me. 45 spam comments last night alone!). Maybe what I am trying to say here is that even though there may be logic behind comment spam and very little logic behind email spam, it seems a bit exaggerated that there is SO much of it out there. As of today I am protected by Akismet & Low NoSpam, the spam filter plugin. That said, lets wait and see how many spam comments I get this time.

Comments (11)

So what do you think? The world wants to know!

February 05, 2010

This is a clip from youtube, it shows the orgin of spam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE About your question “What’s the Point of Spam?” I guess, in present days, it is something like “machines vs people” simply because it doesn’t need too much energy (for the software) to produce, say, 1 000 000 spam messages daily. And we need a lot more energy to clear our mails. It may be doesn’t seem logical for you that someone is wasting time/energy for spaming , but actually it is very easy job. Easy from this,“time/energy” view.

Ben Bodien
February 05, 2010

Nikola is correct - it’s just s simple game of volumes.

It’s very easy to buy a database of a few million email addresses and hit them all with your spam message(s). It only takes a couple of suckers to make it all worthwhile.

Jonathan Longnecker
February 05, 2010

I feel your pain, man. Spam sucks for sure. Even with Low No Spam we’ve taken to defaulting all our comments to be moderated. Makes it much easier to “batch-delete” the bad ones and hand pick the good ones on the fly.

February 07, 2010

This reminds me of a recent episode where my hard drive had tied and I had to use webmail for a few days, which had a pretty poor spam filter. Before I would check my Inbox, I would do a search for “Viagra” and delete all matches.

You’re young, Yaron. Maybe in another 30 years you’ll be more open to Viagra buying opportunities ;)

One thing about spam is for sure. They wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t profitable. So somebody out there is making good money (and wasting lot of people’s time as a by-product).

Yaron Schoen
February 07, 2010

Nikola I love Monty Python! I haven’t seen them in such a while! thanks for the refreshing reminder.

I guess it is like Ben says, it only takes a couple of suckers to make it all worth wild, but I am really skeptical as to how the spammers make actual money from it… After they receive personal info, let’s say bank accounts, they have a new battle. The banks. How would they withdraw large amounts of money from the bank without the bank noticing?

Oh well I guess I will not worry my pretty designers head with all this complex stuff :p

Jonathan, I am waiting to see if Low No Spam will live up to it’s hype and filter the spammers. Until now it is fine, but only time will tell. If all else fails I will switch to moderated comments, although I really don’t want to…

Oh Xoph… In thirty years I will be happy if I am alive…! If I will need Viagra that would be fine by me :)

Ben Bodien
February 09, 2010

@Yaron - what you’re talking about is fraud, not advertising which is what I believe the majority of spam to be (no numbers to back this up off the top of my head). The main game in spam is to get people to click through to online stores selling cheap, mass produced products or services.

The obvious example is drugs of the penis enlarging variety, such as Viagra. Viagra is a trademark of Pfizer and they sell it through official channels at a high cost. That means there’s a large market for companies who know the rough formula for the product and can produce and sell it at a much cheaper price. Of course it’s not the same stuff as it’s a rip-off made in poor conditions for a fast buck, and probably doesn’t even go through official drug testing and approval channels. The spammer is just a specialist in this chain, who delivers customers to the drug stores. He/she gets paid for doing that, presumably very handsomely to warrant such a massive industry in spamming.

Yaron Schoen
February 09, 2010

@ Ben - Great points. While doing a very quick check for the post, I noticed that prescription (viagra ect) is actually the largest form of email spam out there. If Pfizer are selling their product at a high cost then piracy / rip-offs are bound to happen. I guess the internet is the perfect breeding ground for that, just look at the music industry.

February 22, 2010


i love the way you see the world, its a shame the world dosnt see you this way
come back home we miss you here

Ale Focardi
March 31, 2010

@Yaron, I’m an Internet marketer and can definitely answer your question about spam.

First of all comment spam is made with a completely different objective than e-mail spam. When they spam your blog. they are really looking for a backlink in order to improve their rankings on the search engines for whatever keyword they are chasing (buy viagra online, male enhancement pills etc).

The site on the number 1 spot for ‘Buy Viagra Online’ is making around $30k - $250k a day just from the traffic from Google.  One of the factors that help Google rank pages are inbound links to the site. So spammers have created automated robots that post comments on millions of blogs in order to get those links.

Now e-mail spam is a completely different beast. People on the internet come from all different places and the vast majority are not savvy. So when they read that they won the lottery, that a Nigerian prince has died leaving them a fortune. they tend to believe it.

The same happens with pills and watches. the conversion rate(Sales) created by sending e-mails is really low (around 0.0001%) but it is almost free to send millions and millions of e-mails a day so if at the end you are making a profit out of thin air.

Here is a paper from UC Berkeley showing a study on the economics of SPAM:


I just recently stumbled on your blog after seeing it on heartdirected and must say I am linking what I read.

Jamal Nichols
May 05, 2010

Very informative article, I’ve been thinking about this too. V I A G R A

May 19, 2010

I want to thank you for your excellent read,
spam i hate it and i have always wondered what is the point ? when i get it on my blogs i press delete! as we all must do but they are back again with another one, same ip address different title, am i going crazy? do they think i am crazy enough to post there stupid Spam. sorry i have had my moan and groan!  i feel a little better not i know a bit more about how they work thank again. oh and let me know if you find the big solution many blessings