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Re: Explaining spam to policians (was: test message)

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  • From: Anders Andersson < >
  • Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2001 14:59:53 +0100 (MET)

Jan Meijer <jan.meijer@localhost wrote:
>Without figures, preferably written down by a respectable research organization, 
>they won't even listen.  EU-wide losses in euro's would be a great thing (tm). 
>Although you would have to put EU-wide wins (after all, if spammers would not 
>make money out of it they would not do it) on the opposite side ;).
>How could we calculate the amount of loss due to spam?

I don't know whether spamming has been the subject of any serious
academic study, but Olle B�lter (now at the Karolinska Institute, I
think) has done some work on efficiency of e-mail in the workplace.
In a talk he gave, he related the following real-life incident:

   At Karolinska Institute, which is a big complex of buildings in
   Stockholm, they have a pool of scooters for the staff to move
   around in the culverts between the buildings.  They are supposed
   to be found in specific locations and returned there after use.

   One day, a staff member was unable to find a scooter because it
   had appearantly been misplaced by somebody else.  Since this
   caused him an unplanned delay in his work, he wrote a complaint
   letter about it, and since he didn't know who was responsible for
   misplacing the scooter, he sent the letter to the internal staff
   mailing list, which at Karolinska comprises around 3,000 people.

   Assuming that each recipient spent on average 30 seconds reading
   and otherwise dealing with the letter (some probably spent less,
   others more, depending on their interest in the matter), it was
   estimated that the total loss in productivity was roughly equal
   to the cost of purchasing two new scooters.

While Olle B�lter hasn't studied commercial spamming, his work has
been centered around the psychological effects of e-mail.  It's not
just the time to physically scan and dispose of an e-mail message
that counts, but also the time it takes to get your concentration
back on whatever you were doing when your mailbox said "pling" to
let you know you had a new message waiting (a Swedish tabloid paper
summed up B�lter's dissertation with the advice to "turn off the
pling").  When spammers argue about seconds, we are in fact dealing
with minutes; that's a factor 60 to consider.

The Karolinska Institute can be found at <URL:>,
and at <URL:> you can
find Olle B�lter's 1998 dissertation Electronic Mail in a Working

I have spent several hours writing mail to a spamming company and
their ISP to try to explain to them that what they are doing runs
contrary to the AUP their business is subject to, and so far I've
seen no effective results from my effort.  Assuming that the spams
I'm complaining about do reach the 150,000 recipients they claim
"read" their newsletter, they are potentially wasting _lifetimes_
of other people's work.  Does that count as manslaughter?

Steve Jobs is told to have used similar reasoning in order to
convince the MacOS developers to optimize system software for
speed, i.e. multiplying any delay with the anticipated number of
Macintoshes to be sold and translating it to the number of human
lives either wasted or saved!

So, pick a reasonable formula, and fill in the variables with real
numbers.  No complicated stuff; multiplication is probably hard
enough for the policiticians.

Anders Andersson, Dept. of Computer Systems, Uppsala University
Paper Mail: Box 325, S-751 05 UPPSALA, Sweden
Phone: +46 18 4713170   EMail: andersa@localhost

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