CNI Projects and Publications


A Report of the Working Group on Internet Advertising

The Coalition for Networked Information
September 28, 1994

Junk Mail

The issue of advertising on the Internet is really an issue of "junk e-mail," an electronic version of the tons of paper sent to the eponymous "resident." A mailbox full of promotions one neither chooses nor wants engenders fear and loathing in the hearts of Internetters, and leads to the most vicious flaming.

The famous Canter and Siegel "green card" post to some 5,000 newsgroups in April 1994 brought the junk e-mail issue to the fore -- and to the nation's awareness.

Laurence A. Canter and his partner and wife, Martha Siegel, lawyers in Phoenix, Arizona used a freely available program to post their message to 5,000 or so newsgroups in 90 minutes, without adding a cent to the $30 they pay each month for their Internet connection. They were advertising their services to help aliens get their Green Cards -- work permits -- in the next lottery the Federal Government runs for foreign applicants.

This posting might have been of interest on newsgroups devoted to discussing immigration issues. On talk.politics, rec.humor.funny, comp.society.privacy, news.announce.conferences, or a list devoted to library cataloging and authorities, the post (below) was an unwelcome intrusion.

     Date:         Tue, 12 Apr 1994 07:45:20 GMT
     Reply-To:     "AUTOCAT: Library cataloging and authorities 
          discussion group" <AUTOCAT@UBVM.BITNET>, Laurence 
          Canter <nike@INDIRECT.COM>
     Sender:       "AUTOCAT: Library cataloging and authorities 
          discussion group" <AUTOCAT@UBVM.BITNET>
     Comments:     Warning -- original Sender: tag was 
     From:         Laurence Canter <nike@INDIRECT.COM>
     Organization: Canter & Siegel
     Subject:      Green Card Lottery- Final One?
     Green Card Lottery 1994 May Be The Last One!
     The Green Card Lottery is a completely legal program
     giving away a certain annual allotment of Green Cards
     to persons born in certain countries. The lottery
     program was scheduled to continue on a permanent basis.
     However, recently, Senator Alan J Simpson introduced a
     bill into the U. S. Congress which could end any future
     The only countries NOT qualifying  are: Mexico; India;
     P.R. China; Taiwan, Philippines, North Korea, Canada,
     United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland), Jamaica,
     Domican Republic, El Salvador and Vietnam.
     Lottery registration will take place soon.  55,000 Green
     Cards will be given to those who register correctly.  NO
     For FREE information via Email, send request to

Within minutes netters responded. By the time Mr. Canter's Internet provider pulled the plug on his account, netters had flooded his account with some 30,000 letters of protest, crashing the host computer 15 times. On the Internet, junk mail begets anti-junk replies. And while Mr. Canter bravely insisted he had done nothing wrong, he later agreed not to repeat his flame-inspiring feat.

The very openness of the Internet makes it possible to flood e-mail addresses with electronic flyers, yet the culture of the Internet stands squarely against it. Internetters see themselves as part of a great experiment, all sharing their knowledge freely without imposing on their fellow netters.

     I don't want to slog through anyone's ads if I
     am swapping a paper back and forth with a
     collaborating colleague, any more than I want
     to have to listen to a sales pitch for mutual
     funds when I call that colleague on the phone.
     [From: Bob Rosenberg <>
     Date: Wed 30 Mar 94 8:54:44-EST]

For some Internetters, junk mail imposes an unwanted expense on the recipients or their organizations, since they pay most of the costs of delivery. They may be charged for time on line, or for storage "space" in their mailboxes. With junk e-mail, they are forced to pay to receive mail they do not want. That reverses the Post Office equation where the mailer, not the recipient, pays for direct mail.

Some view junk e-mail as akin to telephone harassment, and some Internet service providers explicitly disallow unsolicited advertising to private e-mail addresses. Organizations that engage in such activities risk having their connectivity limited or cut off.

Even so, some advertisers will try sending junk mail to lists of e-mail addresses gained openly or covertly. These advertisers believe that even if most of the recipients throw away the message (and hate the advertiser), those few Internetters who are induced to buy will more than make up for papering the net with unwanted mail.

Surprisingly to some, junk mail had its defenders in the CNI discussion:

     If advertising is to be available over the net,
     either you must reach out for it or it must come
     to you unrequested. The former is a possibility
     for established products, but new products must
     necessarily reach out to you.
     I see only three ways that this can be done. There
     could be a registry where you indicate the types
     of products you wish to hear about; there could be
     commercially sold name lists that have much the
     same effect; or each company could reach out to
     individuals as best it can, respecting any
     personal objections to such advertising.
     The clearinghouse model doesn't exist yet, although
     it's a good idea. (Incidentally, the clearing house
     for direct-mail advertising reports that four
     times as many people ask for _more_ advertising as
     ask for less.)
     The brokered lists also do not exist yet,
     although they are also a good idea. A few
     email lists may be available from professional
     societies, but I would guess that such use is
     severely restricted.
     So, there really is no choice but for
     low-margin companies to send you unsolicited
     advertising. As they do so, they are to be
     commended if they keep the messages short (with
     more details on request), infrequent (but often
     enough to help you if you need the product),
     and customized in whatever way you request.
     Announcements in mass-distribution lists should
     be especially infrequent since they can't be
     customized. (I would favor having a moderator
     screen the ads.)  Ads to individuals are better
     as long as the company keeps track of any
     requests that you make -- e.g., to be removed
     entirely, or not to have your name sold.  This
     is called "relationship marketing," and is
     often quite popular with the customers. It
     hasn't been feasible at the national level
     until just recently, but it is certainly
     feasible on the net.
     [From: Ken Laws <>
     Date: Sun 21 Feb 93 15:17:44-PST]

               #     #     #

     I would be very happy if the 5-10 pieces of junk
     postal mail I get every day came in the form of
     e-mail instead. Junk e-mail is much more recipient-
     friendly than paper mail for two major reasons:
     first, you can employ software agents to classify
     and/or reject junk e-mail, and second, junk e-mail
     does not consume paper or other natural resources.
     And I *much* prefer e-mail advertising to telephone
     calls, which are very intrusive.
     Date: Tue 22 Mar 94 10:07:09-EST]

The wise advertiser puts junk e-mail into the category reserved for junk faxes -- a tool so violently opposed that Congress passed laws against it. And like junk faxes, junk e-mail imposes costs on the recipient and clogs the incoming data stream, preventing the transmission of information important to the recipient. In short, it's odious.

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