Date: Sat, 4 Nov 1995 00:17:49 -0500

As I received several requests for the article mentioned,
I have retyped it, and hope it grabs the interest of many
more Harp-L'ers. I didn't receive any requests to skip it,
so here goes - sorry it has no harmonica content, but I
think it is relevant at this point in time.

- - BassHarp

- - Daniel Akst, Los Angeles Times November 1, 1995

It's hard to believe, but privacy is already becoming an issue
for the average Internet user. In the case of World Wide Web
sites that require a lot of registration information, users
provide the data knowingly in exchange for access to what
the site has to offer. That's bad enough, since the data might
well end up in some marketing database or on some hacker's
hard drive.

Worse yet, the decision to open yourself to sales pitches is
increasingly being taken out of your hands. In the near future,
when you log on, you may well be greeted by the clamor of
unwelcome marketing. That's right, thanks to the economics
of the Internet - and the classic problem of the commons -
junk e-mail is here and a lot more is coming.

Consider Jeff Slaton, the Internet's self-proclaimed "Spam King."
Slaton says he has assembled a database of 6 million e-mail
addresses gleaned from all over the Internet, and for $425 he
will send your ad to every one of them. He'll also post it to
every active Internet newsgroup and mailing list if you wish,
even if the ad is for printer cartridges and the normal focus of the
discussion is poultry health or pig Latin. Sending all this stuff
takes eight or 10 hours of computer time, but doesn't cost much
more than sending a single message. ("Spamming," from an old
Monty Python skit, is the Internet term for what Slaton is doing.)

Clever advertisers can target prospects based on your activities
on-line. A posting to a forum or newsgroup on scuba diving, for
instance, could bring solicitations for diving vacations, equipment
and so forth. But Slaton doesn't take the trouble to do much
targeting; it's just as easy, if not easier, to send to everybody.

Slaton won't even let you e-mail him to get your name off his
list, although he insists he was joking when he previously
said he would charge $5 to perform this function. He now
says that to get yourself removed, you have to call him at
(505) 821-1945 (or write the Spam King at 5901J Wyoming
Blvd NE, Suite 284, Albuquerque, NM 87109).

Threatening to give both royalty and lunch meat a bad name,
the king offers no apologies for how he makes a living.
Although he claims to be doing only four or five mass postings
a day, Slaton insists he would gladly send the people in his
database 100 or more, adding, "I only wish I had that much

What an entrepreneur. Of course, Slaton's activities are
squarely in the great American tradition of profit from abuse
of the commons. In this he's no different from a business
that pollutes the water without paying the cost of cleanup,
or a driver who doesn't bear the cost of his car's emissions,
instead spreading them around to everyone else. He gets the
gain, we get the pain.

There's no natural brake on this kind of behavior if those who
engage in it lack the moral sense to see that if everyone did
the same, the Internet would be rendered useless. Fortunately,
junk e-mail and other privacy issues are getting more attention
lately. And a couple of professional privacy advocates are
launching efforts to turn the technology against its abusers.

First, Private Citizen Inc., a one-man war against junk mail
waged by Robert Bulmash in Naperville, IL, is extending his
efforts into cyberspace. For years Bulmash has offered a
devilishly clever weapon to consumers fed up with telemarketing
calls: For $20 he'll put you on a list that he regularly sends to
more that 1,400 direct-marketing firms. Basically it tells the
companies that by calling you, they agree to pay you $500 for
your time and the use of your telephone. For $10, Bulmash will
tell various direct-marketing concerns not to send you any junk
snail mail.

Now Bulmash ( is launching a service to
notify senders of junk e-mail that consumers on his list
don't want any. Bulmash even contends that federal law
barring unsolicited faxes also covers e-mail, based on how
the statute defines a facsimile transmission. His view of
this is controversial and may not stand up in court, but at the
very least his service offers e-mail users a way to notify
spammers to get lost.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the nonprofit Electronic Privacy
Information Center is building on Bulmash's idea with plans
for a massive, Internet-based drive to stamp out junk e-mail,
according to EPIC Director Mark Rotenburg.

The plan is to set up a World Wide Web site where users can
fill out a form that EPIC will transmit to junk mailers. The form
will say that the user will only review unsolicited, commercially
oriented e-mail for a fee, which Rotenberg said would be in the
neighborhood of $100 per hour. Eventually, Rotenberg said,
the system will probably use digital authentication, so there
can be no doubt about the identity of the sender.

One hopes such efforts work to discourage spammers like
Slaton, whose characterization of himself makes it clear
what a deep sense of stewardship he brings to his business:
"I'm simply riding the crest," he says, "riding the wave as
long as I can ride it, and then I'll move on."

"Privacy Talk - You don't have to be paranoid to care about
privacy in cyberspace. If you're interested in the subject, you
can visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) at or send e-mail to Also
worth a try: the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse of the Center
for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego, at Among news groups, try
comp.society.privacy and alt.privacy"

Daniel Akst welcomes messages at
His World Wide Web page is at

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