Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Background of Spam

Of course, it is an interesting story about how the name of a can of processed ham became a symbol of junk messages, (see "How the word "Spam" came to mean "junk message") but today, the word spam is almost always associated with unwanted email and comments. As genealogists, if we finally take the plunge and start using computers attached to the internet, we will inevitably be forced to confront the reality of spam.

First of all, there is a difference between spam and bulk email. I often get as many as a hundred emails a day. Many of these could be considered to be bulk email. Similar to the "junk mail" I used to get in quantity every day in my physical mailbox. But in most cases, they are from businesses that I have specifically allowed to send me such email. I may not have any interest today in the offer from a local retailer or an online website, but this background of email keeps me in touch with the world outside my home office. It is easy enough to simply delete the messages that have no immediate interest and look at those that do. I do not consider this to be an imposition. It is just a part of doing business as an online person and usually gives me something to write about almost every day.

So what is spam? First of all the keyword here is "unsolicited." I allow these websites and businesses to send me email, but I do get a lot of comments and emails from people that are not welcome. Now, if I happen to be driving down the local freeway, I am going to see a lot of billboards. I did not ask to see these billboards and technically, I do not have to look at them. But I do see them and I do look at them, depending on the traffic flow. Are billboards "spam?" Hmm. What if I see a billboard announcement for a local event that I would like to attend? Is that spam? So, in addition to being unsolicited, spam is also content that we personally are not interested in.

But there is another, more dangerous level of spam. These are people who are, in a real sense, attacking us for illegal, immoral or other harmful purposes. The U.S. right now is being deluged with robocalls. A robocall is a telephone call that is unsolicited and originates from a computer program that systematically calls every conceivable telephone number. Some of these calls come from "legitimate" businesses. But others come from people who are trying to defraud the recipients of the calls. The solution is to have caller ID and do not answer unidentified phone calls. If you do get a call that is unsolicited, just hang up. Do not talk, do not reason with the person, do not yell or complain, just hang up.
Hmm. Here is a screenshot of the Federal Communications Commission website. Guess what? They want you to register. What happens when you register? If you permit them to do so, they will send you more email.

Here are some simple rules for avoiding almost all of the problems we have today with spam in all its forms.

1. If you receive an unsolicited comment or email, do not open it or respond or reply. Just delete the comment or email. My email program, Gmail, gives me a short summary of the content of any email message I recieve. I can quickly scan the list of emails and delete any of those I choose not to read or do not recognize as important.

2. If you have a blog or other online presence, take the time to review any comments before allowing them to be posted. All of the blog programs, such as Blogger, will allow you to review comments before they are posted. Do this.

3. Set up the filters on your email and other content. See these websites for information and instructions:

You can find similar instructions for the program you are using to read your email by searching online.


  1. One of the best things I've ever done in my life is this: Go to, and submit your phone number. Then if you have robocalls the phone will ring once, and then shut off. I never even have to pick up. Wonderful.

    1. I checked and Consumer Reports says the program only works with VOiP phones. Is that correct?

  2. Don't forget this bit of history, too, James: (2nd paragraph).

    1. Yes, we watched that episode recently and my wife couldn't see the point. I guess I can't see the point of spam email or spam comments but I guess if they get even a few responses it motivates the spammers to send out more.