This article was published on March 20, 2013

My crazy idea to piss off spammers

My crazy idea to piss off spammers
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

The problem with spam is that it is so easy to send a lot of it, and you only need a few fools to buy your stuff to make a buck. The economics are in the spammers’ favor. For less than $10 you can spam 40 million email addresses. The odds might only be one in a million, but that’s good enough for a spammer.

Over the past few decades we have been focusing on better filters, on understanding and in building smarter servers and routers to keep spam from ending up in your inbox. But the fact of the matter is that as we get smarter about filtering spam, spammers get better at reaching more of us, for less money. The economics are still in the spammers’ favor.

The economics of spam

Now imagine the following scenario: imagine if a spammer sent out 40 million emails, and instead of getting 40 orders, he or she received a million faulty orders. It isn’t economically viable to read through one million orders to find the 40 valid orders. Even with 4000 faulty orders I wonder if the numbers are still attractive for spammers.

So why don’t we do this?

What would happen if a large portion of us would donate something like $5 a year for an international spam-fighting team. I’ll bet we can find a million people around the world who want to pay $5 for the pleasure of knowing that a team of people are fighting back against spam.

This team could do two things. First of all it could hire people, through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk program to place fake orders on spammed URLs.As a member I could forward all or some of my spam and it would all be collected in a huge spam box at this organization. Random emails could be submitted to Mechanical Turk so that our little army of spam fighters can visit these websites and start placing fake orders. It would be hilarious, and effective.

There’s more…

The second thing I would love to see is an automated script to keep spammers busy. I even got a domain name ready for it:

Besides the obvious spam messages selling me penis enlargement pills or Viagra I also get the occasional Nigerian 419 scams or Asian offers for random stuff. I would love to be able to reply to these people with the following message:

“Hey thanks! That’s exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately this is my last day here but my buddy Mike at procurement has just received a budget of 90,000 to start acquiring stuff and is eagerly awaiting your email. You can reach him at [email protected]

I can totally imagine these spammers freaking out and thinking this is going to be the best day ever! They email ‘Mike’ and get an auto-reply. Something like this:

“Hi there, this is Mike at procurement. I’m off for the week visiting trade shows buying stuff but would love to talk to you about whatever you are selling. Please fill out the attached form and mail it back to me at your earliest convenience”

The attached PDF is of course 40 pages long and contains 600 forms that need to be filled out. Once they send that back there will be another step in the process. Maybe the form has been lost and a new form needs to be filled out. Maybe Mike will transfer the order to someone else up the chain (how about ‘Cindy’) that has an even bigger budget, and more form to fill out.

How much fun would it be?

The would have to look good and would have a secret entrance somewhere for people who know what’s going on. I can see a dashboard there with how many people are going through the scripted responses and who got the farthest. It would be hilarious to see the threads of email from spammers and scammers replying to pre-formatted emails and complaining about their lost time but still continuing through the process.

And of course every minute they spend talking to ‘Mike’ is time they can’t spend spamming other people.

How much money does this need?

To wrap things up; these thing are both easy to do. Technically it isn’t very challenging. It is just a lot of work to set up. And people who do work need to get paid.

A few weeks ago I started an IndieGoGo campaign for another project I’m working on and I liked it. Lets start another one to see if we can raise a quick million. Is a million a lot? Well yeah, but it would mean we could set up a serious spam fighting unit.

Important note: None of the earned funds will be paid to me or The Next Web. All funds will be managed by a new separate company set up specifically for this mission and that will only happen if we reach a million.

Now check out the “My crazy idea to piss off spammers” campaign on Indiegogo and lets see if we can get this thing going…

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