Make Money, Naked Babes . . . Arggh
in from email@example.com: "You were referred to me
as someone who may be interested in the following information." Oh,
sure. I wasn't really "referred"; my e-mail address was harvested from Internet
discussion groups or searches of Web sites or service-provider customer lists,
and then sold and resold. A lot of my e-mail these days begins exactly the
same way and continues: "If you are not, please let
us know, and we will promptly take your name off our mailing." This,
too, is a lie.
Want to make money fast? Want to look at pictures of naked babes? Want FREE 1 yr. USA Magazine Subscriptions? A cure for heart disease? A $785,000 Dream Home Giveaway!!!? If so, then you are the person who is supposed to be getting all this mail. To judge strictly by my mailbox, the Internet, formerly thought to be a hothouse of intellectual and artistic creativity, has now mutated into a sales bazaar as scummy and senseless as any on the face of the planet.
The fellow at hotmail.com advised (with the odd grammar and capitalization that go with the genre) that "If You Didn't Make $5625.00 Last Week You Owe To Yourself And Your Family To Give our Program Serious Consideration!" Just minutes before, a self-described M.D. with a return address of A-Winternational@msn.com asked me to imagine my daughter or son on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. "Why? You are lying on the floor in the kitchen, clutching your chest, panic stricken. You are 45 years old. In addition to fear, lots of things are racing through your mind." You bet, doc.
One is that this is a hidden charge for all those free Internet sites that demand e-mail addresses and other personal information as the price of admission. Another is that humanity has never before encountered a form of advertising that costs its senders so little. Its targets, in fact, pay more, particularly if they belong to an online service that bills by the hour. Anyone with an Internet connection and a list of e-mail addresses can send millions of letters for, roughly, nothing. If you doubt that, just read my e-mail:
"There's nothing that even comes close to this media of marketing. Everyday 10,080 new people log on-line that's 10,080 new prospects everyday! We'll put it to you like this lets say your selling a product for $39.95 and you E-mail 1,000,000 people with your marketing letter and you only get a 1% response rate that's 10,000 ORDERS, you can do the math on this one!!"
Are you wondering whether these marketers have any respect for
privacy? They certainly do. Just not yours. "There will
be NO TRACE to your existing e-mail address," they promise the would-be
junk mailer. "There will be NO WORRIES ANYMORE about
sending out mass e-mail! With our service, you can mass e-mail till your
That last ever-mutating set
belongs to Cyber Promotions Inc., a company that has been battling America
Online and other services in court, so far unsuccessfully. "I can guarantee
you that in a couple of years this will be a part of American life, just
like every other kind of advertising," says its founder, Sanford Wallace.
"I don't mind getting commercial e-mail at all, because I want to see what's
going on out there. I also don't have a problem with watching frogs in the
middle of the Superbowl." He sees a bit of hypocrisy in America Online's
response—back in the real world, America Online is famous for flooding
nonvirtual mailboxes with promotional disks by the ton.
First published in the New York Times Magazine 22 December 1996