Petreley's column: When misbehaving children never grow up: spam

Have you ever had a five-year-old lie to you? Yes, it's sad in one respect, but I find it almost amusing in another. Young kids usually have no idea how easy it is for adults to know when they're lying. That's not surprising, since children have so little experience. What amazes me, however, is that some of these kids never learn. I'm talking about those kids who grow up to work in public relations or marketing. One gets the impression that they still don't realise we know when they're lying.

That set me to wondering what the world would be like if everyone were legally bound to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It would certainly change the nature of e-mail marketing, wouldn't it?

I waded through my spam folder and tried to imagine what it would be like if the authors of these messages had to be honest about their motives and tactics.

Subject: How to meet beautiful women

We are a bunch of lowlife racketeers who would be in some other line of work if we actually had a clue how to meet beautiful women. So we're hoping that some of you are stupid enough to think we can increase your chances of getting a date if you respond to this e-mail advertisement. If you are, please call +1-900-555-5555. My 62-year-old Aunt Martha will answer the phone as the flirtatious "Desiree" and will gladly build up false hopes for only $US2.99 per minute.

We apologise if you are so gullible that you actually believe you received this solicitation by mistake. If you want us to remove you from this list, please send us e-mail with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject line. We won't actually remove your name. But your response will flag your e-mail address as valid, which makes it possible to sell your e-mail address to others for a higher price.

Subject: SleazE-Commerce server is now feature complete!

Congratulations! You are among the first million people we handpicked to pay for an early look at a beta product we're calling "feature complete" because it includes only those features we've been able to complete.

We're way behind schedule and way over budget on this product, so it is imperative that we raise some extra cash on this thing now, even if it's not ready.

Fortunately, we started the hype on this product way before we had even agreed on the basic design. We're hoping that you're probably so impatient to get something in your hands by now that you can be suckered out of your hard-earned cash.

So if you are looking for something to distract you from important duties like making sure your business is running year-2000-compliant software, send us $60 for the latest build of SleazE-Commerce server, and we'll send you a copy as soon as we can get it to compile without errors.

Subject: Increase your business profits!

If you could accept credit cards, would your Internet-commerce business benefit? Did you know that 99 per cent of all Internet transactions in the past year were credit-card transactions? If this painfully obvious fact surprises you, we want you as our customer now!

Subject: Help defend our right to innovateWe are writing to our customers in a last-ditch effort to get someone to help us defend our right to innovate new and devious ways to protect our monopoly. Your name was specially chosen because we are confident that you will want to participate. If you really knew the difference between innovation and Shinola, you probably wouldn't be buying our products.

We understand that it is difficult to write letters supporting our company because one must write about the occasional threats to our monopoly as if their existence implies that we do not control the market. This is a particularly challenging task, since you must avoid at all costs the details of how we respond to those threats. And you must never use the word "monopoly" in your argument.

That's why we have created the brand-new program ActiveTurf 4.0. ActiveTurf is an application that automatically generates and mails letters of support. Get your beta copy of ActiveTurf 4.0 now by sending $60 to the following address. ...

Nicholas Petreley is editorial director of LinuxWorld ( Reach him at, and visit his forum at

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