“Spam for Everyone” - The International Campaign for Accessible Spam

Last Updated: 7-April-2011.

Mike “The Mouse“ House (a.k.a “D.J. Salinger”) was a minor rap artist, and a computer geek when he decided to start selling CDs of open-source software. He turned to spamming to publicise his business, but found out that the spam he sent was trapped by most spam traps. He decided to use the notorious obscured image spam, but since he had a few blind friends, decided to also include an audio recording of a rap song with the spam message.

House received a few offers from his spam campaign, but his real break came when a few enthusiasts of the spam song shared it on the Internet, where it became an instant hit. The song eventually hit the charts and MTV, and made D.J. Salinger famous, who quickly released his first successful album called Rap to the spam, Ma’am!, with such highly acclaimed hits as “Rap to not get trapped” and “He ain’t Nigerian. He’s a Spammer!”.

As a millionaire, House decided to donate some of his money back to sponsoring open-source projects, and has donated 100,000s of U.S. Dollars to such causes as the Free Software Foundation, Linux International and SpamAssassin. “If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have made it big”, he said, and said he’s now working on a second album with a similar theme.

According to The Foundation for Accessible Spam, the young D.J.’s story illustrates the sad fact that spam has become increasingly inaccessible in the past years, barring many disabled or partially-disabled people from enjoying the benefits of this trend.

“Spam for Everyone”

The Foundation for Accessible Spam, a U.S. non-profit, decided to start a campaign for convincing spammers to avoid practices that result in spam rendered more inaccessible. “It all started with these text-obfuscation techniques they used to circumvent pattern-catchers and Bayesian filters” Kanoo Aberdeen, a legally blind member of the Foundation, told us. “How am I supposed to understand what’s going on in my email when my screen reader reads it like ‘Vee ; One ; At-sign ; Nine ; Ey ...’”. But that was only the start of Kanoo’s trouble. As spammers used obfuscated images containing the text to pass Bayesian filters, he found that he was completely unable to read it.

His foundation fellow Peter Peterovich, who is neither blind nor otherwise disabled in any way, said he is also distressed from these trends: “It’s been really hard reading all these obfuscated images on the computer screen, and trying to type in the web address or email contained in them. They are a huge accessibility problem even for people without disabilities.”

The “Spam-for-Everyone” campaign aims to convince spammers that they shouldn’t send spam that makes it harder or impossible for disabled people to understand it, and also proved of a huge accessibility problem to everyone else. Miguel de-Icaza, the leader of the open-source GNOME Project, and a board member of the Foundation for Accessible Spam, commented that: “We took a lot of measures to make GNOME and its underlying Gtk+ library accessible for people with disabilities. It’s also been a priority for Microsoft for years, and now the KDE project is focusing on it as well. On the other hand, spammers have actually taken a step backwards in their products’ accessibility, and it really saddens me. Now if you’ll excuse me — I need to purge my spam folder.”

Some spammers who were influenced by the campaign enough to make their spam more accessible, said they found creative ways to get passed spam filters. Cathelyn Bronox, a distinguished spammer said she opted to send text only messages, but making her spam more varied. “I found that there’s a limit to how many of the old and cliché spam a typical spam receiving netizen is going to respond to.” Ms. Bronox said, “Instead I started offering fresh and unique spam about more variable topics, in order to pass through the spam traps: furniture, trips to exotic places, children books, etc”. She said many people found a renewed interest in their inbox after spam like this passed through their filters.

The Future

Does the future of spam will make them less and less accessible for people with disabilities or without them? Or will spam hopefully become more accessible, despite the ever-growing obstacles that spammers face in getting to their recipients’ inboxes? “The Foundation for Accessible Spam hopes to reverse this unfortunate trend,“ Kanoo Aberdeen said in his address announcing the start of the campaign, “please help spread the word about this campaign so everyone can enjoy the finest crop of the world’s spam.”.

Copyright and Licence

This document is Copyright by Shlomi Fish, 2007, and is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0 Unported (or at your option any later version).

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