The Definition of Spam - Do You Know What spam eMail Really is?
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The word "Spam" as applied to Email means Unsolicited Bulk Email
Unsolicited means that the Recipient has not granted verifiable permission
for the message to be sent. Bulk means that the message is sent as part of a
larger collection of messages, all having substantively identical content.
A message is Spam only if it is both Unsolicited and Bulk.
- Unsolicited Email is normal email
(examples: first contact enquiries, job enquiries, sales enquiries)
- Bulk Email is normal email
(examples: subscriber newsletters, customer communications, discussion lists)
Technical Definition of Spam
An electronic message is "spam" IF:
(1) the recipient's personal identity and context are irrelevant because the
message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients;
(2) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable
permission for it to be sent.
Spam is an issue about consent, not content. Whether the UBE message is an
advert, a scam, porn, a begging letter or an offer of a free lunch, the content
is irrelevant - if the message was sent unsolicited and in bulk then the message
Spam is not a sub-set of UBE, it is not "UBE that is also a scam or that
doesn't contain an unsubscribe link", all email sent unsolicited and in
bulk is Spam.
This distinction is important because legislators spend inordinate amounts of
time attempting to regulate the content of spam messages, and in doing so come
up against free speech issues, without realizing that the spam issue is solely
about the delivery method.
Important facts relating to this definition:
(1) the sending of Unsolicited Bulk Email ("UBE") is banned by the
vast majority of Internet service providers worldwide.
(2) Spamhaus' anti-spam blocklist, used by more than 260 million Internet
users to reject emails identified as spam, is based on the internationally-accepted
definition of Spam as "Unsolicited Bulk Email". Therefore anyone
sending UBE on the Internet, whether the content is commercial or not, illegal
or not, needs to be fully aware that (1) they will lose their Internet access if
they send UBE, (2) they will be placed on the Spamhaus Block List (SBL) if they
Various jurisdictions have implemented legislation to control what they call
"spam". One particular example is US S.877 (CANSPAM 2004). Each law
addresses "spam" in different ways, and as a consequence, often has
different definitions of what they cover, whether they call it "spam"
or not. Spamhaus uses the industry standard "unsolicited bulk email"
definition which underlines "it's not about content, it's about consent".
As such, arguments as to whether UBE messages are covered under CANSPAM or are
compliant with CANSPAM, are entirely irrelevant.
Other Reference Documents
Webster's Dictionary: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=spam
Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS): http://www.mail-abuse.com/spam_def.html
Crynwr.com Spam Definition Document: http://www.crynwr.com/spam/definition.html
Other articles on the definition of "Spam": http://www.google.com/definition+of+spam
Maurice Clarke is founding owner of Spam Solution http://www.spam-solution.net
dedicated to expand its fight against spammers. Offering a wide
range of guides on email control and spam issues have led us to
become a major force in the fight against spam. If you found this
article useful please tell a friend about it and us.
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