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Posted
10 February 2006

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A Futile Gesture

The great thing about blogging is that even when you perform some totally pointless task or make a futile gesture, at least you get to redeem some benefit from it by sharing with others.

So, in that vein let me tell you all now that I have attempted to report an email spammer to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Once upon a time there was a dog. (No, wait, I'm going somewhere with this.)

I was going to tell you the dog's name, because it was a bit unusual and added a bit of flavour to the story, but I've just realised that "what was your first pet's name?" is a common secret question used by various institutions who want to identify you when you lose your password or PIN or whatever (despite it being a terrible idea). So in the interests of anonymity of my now long-dead dog, let's call her Brian.

On hot days Brian used to get bugged by flies. For the most part Brian would ignore the flies because she knew that the flies were a lot quicker than she was, and so she mostly learned to live with them.

Every once in a while though, a fly would get close enough and she'd have a go. I won't say how successful she was because I really wasn't paying that much attention, and the idea of eating flies is kinda gross, even for a dog. Anyway the point is that Brian had a very highly-attuned sense of opportunity. Either the fly was close enough to catch, or it wasn't, and the dog knew — from, it must be said, long experience — how close was close enough. She knew the fly event horizon (if you will).

So my attitude towards spam has been influenced by Brian's attitude towards flies. I'll try to ignore and deal with the spam as best I can, but when a spammer comes close enough to bite, I will.

Recently I started getting spam from a real estate company I'd never heard of. I don't know where they got my email address, but it was my yahoo address, which I haven't used in a while. Also they knew my real name, so I'm guessing they didn't harvest it online. Given that the content (real estate in Inner Sydney) is a subject I am not entirely disinterested in, it's possible that they may have obtained that email address through a prior business relationship. Who knows.

Anyway I figured they looked legitimate enough to risk the unsubscribe link provided. I entered my email address into their web form and was given a positive response: "you have been removed from our list" or similar.

But the spam kept coming. Not a lot, maybe one every couple of weeks. This was particularly annoying because it was an Australian company and, despite them being in the real estate business, I expected better. After unsuccessfully trying to remove myself from their mailing list, I ignored a few spam emails from them and eventually snapped. Figuring that they had strayed close enough, I pounced.

The ACMA has an online form for reporting spam. You enter some details, and it responds with a rather uninspiring acknowledgement, and the reassurance that "you have not been added to any distribution list".

Figuring that that would be the last I heard of it, I began planning the blog entry about the experience. To my surprise however, I did get an email a few days later:

Thank you for your recent spam complaint.

ACMA has taken the following action with regard to your complaint:

  • written to the business to allege that it has breached the Spam Act;
  • informed the business of the financial penalties that apply for further breaches of the Act; and
  • directed the business to ensure that all its future electronic messages comply with the Act, and immediately remove your address from its mailing lists.

So maybe it wasn't futile after all.

This blog entry dedicated to the memory of Brian. Hope you're enjoying Doggie Heaven, where all the flies are easy to catch. And the spammers too.

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