Debra J. Saunders
On Sept. 11, one industry didn't close for business. Spam continued to bombard e-mail users, including pornographic spam. As Tom Geller of the anti-spam SpamCon Foundation in San Francisco noted, within hours of the terrorist attacks, spam e-mails were capitalizing on the carnage. "No terrorists here!" boasted one e-mail. "Join our porn site, turn off the TV, quit watching the crap happening in the states, and join our free site," it continued. Geller's group doesn't differentiate between porn spam and business-scam spam -- SpamCon hates them all. Well, who doesn't hate spam? Deleting unsolicited messages takes time. Geller estimates that because Internet service providers disseminate this deluge of unwanted information, consumers have to pay some $3 to $4 per month for e-mail they don't want. Still, there is something particularly invasive about pornographic spam. Whether it's "Hot Amy" inviting Internet users to watch her on her Webcam, or Jessica or Tammy, or invitations to spy at Asian hotties, or messages that claim to have captured celebrities in revealing positions, the consumer is thrust into a world that demeans women and men, too. Improved e-mail technology has only made matters worse. These days, you don't have to open an attached file or click on a box to see naked writhing bodies. Sometimes all you have to do is open an e-mail and you get a big surprise -- maybe graphic photos, or maybe the opportunity, with one click of the mouse, to see women getting cozy with dogs. Or you're automatically sent to a website, which ensures you will receive more spam. You don't even have to open some e-mail to be treated to a misogynistic subject line. As in -- animal rights activists be forewarned -- "hot girls and wild horses." Geller's group may not distinguish between home-finance spams and flesh spams, but this woman does. Promises of peeks at "teen sluts" are far more irritating and distracting than spams pitching a low mortgage rate. And, of course, there is no way that the sites can tell if the e-mail reader is age 18 or older. Then again, any group that would advertise sex with "teens" probably doesn't care how old the paying clients are. Even filters don't keep out all the junk. Consumers can set it up to block mail from one address, only to receive the same e-mail from a different one. Geller's organization maintains a website (spamcon.org) with advice on how consumers can cut down on spam. The site also lists state laws that may help consumers who care to protest the dirty deluge. Meanwhile, some Internet service providers can and should work harder to spare their customers from the flood of spam, pornographic and otherwise. They can monitor and block e-mail addresses of known offenders. I'm not saying that people who want to log onto porn should be denied that access. But if they can choose to have it, the rest of us should be able to choose not to be treated to the salacious subject lines. Ditto for our children. Without even meaning to, the unsuspecting consumer can find herself staring at images that wouldn't rate space in most magazines that come in plain brown wrappers. I never requested such fare, but I got 22 porn spams over the weekend. And the worst of it is, I didn't have any choice.

Debra J. Saunders


 
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