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What Is Spam? Why Is It So Common?

Sunday, December 30th, 2012 by | Filed Under: I've Always Wanted To Know...

I’ve Always Wanted To Know:

What is spam? Why is it so common?

Spam, which is otherwise known as junk mail or spam mail, is a huge annoyance for every user of e-mail. So what exactly is it? Why is it so common? How do you prevent spam? Why don’t internet service providers stop accepting spam? The answers to these questions may surprise you.

What is spam?
Spam, in the most basic sense, is any e-mail that you didn’t request or sign up for it to be delivered to you. Spam can range from mass market advertising from a major retailer to advertisements about illicit websites or pharmacological products, to virus/spam e-mails. Spam mail in the year 2011 was estimated at almost seven trillion messages (7,000,000,000,000), and has resulted in a massive amount of wasted energy and labor by internet providers and end users. Spam is no longer limited to just e-mail, either; with instant message, text message, social network and other brands spam on the rise.

Why is spam so common?
This one throws most people for a loop when they hear the answer. YOU! Not particularly you (the person reading this article), but the human race in general has proven that spam mail works. The cost to send a single e-mail message is so low and the amount of people who will read and click on a link is so high that it makes spamming a money making business.  If only a small fraction of e-mails results in a sale of a product or an infection of a machine, then the spammers have made money.

How do you prevent spam?
You can end up being the target of spam in quite a few different ways. If you put your e-mail address on any company’s website or online form, make sure you know the policy they have on what e-mails they will send and if they will share that information. Many people also find their e-mail address gets added to spammers lists by signing up for “free” offers or contests, which as part of the signup process gives permission for that company and its partners to send you e-mails. Most e-mail clients have options to mark a message as spam or junk and will attempt to learn from your selections as to which e-mails are spam and which are not.

Why don’t internet providers stop accepting spam?
Internet service providers actually do a lot to prevent and mitigate the effects of spam e-mail. Many providers use advanced e-mail processing servers which have lists of known spam addresses and types of spam and automatically refuse the message before it makes it to your inbox. Internet providers can’t out right ban or refuse spam, though, because spammers are very creative at getting around blocks. One person’s spam may be another person’s requested advertisements, so it’s often better for the provider to allow the message through than risk thousands of angry customers who didn’t get an ad flyer due to it possibly being spam.

Spam may be a huge annoyance, but by being smart with who you give your e-mail address to and using the spam/junk mail filters will keep this internet blight to a minimum.


P.S. WorldStart never shares customers e-mail addresses with anyone and has its full legal policy available by clicking here.

Do you have a general technology or electronics question you always wanted to know like “How does a Microwave work?” or “Why do LED’s last so long?” Write me at and your question may be answered in an upcoming “I Always Wanted To Know.” For specific computer support questions ask our writers by clicking here.

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