The Definition of Spam - Do You Know What spam eMail Really is?

by Maurice Clarke - Date: 2006-12-21 - Word Count: 449 Share This!

The word "Spam" as applied to Email means Unsolicited Bulk Email ("UBE").

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 is spam.

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 send UBE.

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:
Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS): Spam Definition Document:
Other articles on the definition of "Spam":

Related Tags: online business, spam, email, spamming, outlook, phishing, bulk email, address book, spammers, inbox

Maurice S Clarke is founder of the wearable goods trading web site and lives in Rugby, UK. This article may be freely republished provided it remains intact.

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