Spam – or a cry for help?

“Missing Person Alert”. A lot of users recently received an email with this subject, which included a photograph and a description of a missing US citizen.

This isn’t the first time that a mass mailing has asked internet users for help. However, a few years ago, such a message wouldn’t have been mass mailed; they relied on the good will of users, who were asked to send the message to their friends, or the contacts in their address book, something similar to a chain letter. One example of this was the email containing a photo of the little boy who was found after the tsunami which hit Thailand.

“Missing Person Alert” spreads in a different way. Millions of emails were sent out using dedicated software and databases. The messages are sent out almost simultaneously, and are not passed from one user to another.

Formally, this type of mailing could be classified as spam. Why?

1. It’s mass mailing, and the mail has not been requested by the recipient.
2. Users complain about this type of mailing, just as they do about spam. This is partly connected to the point above: if the user hasn’t elected to receive information from the sender, or information on the topic, naturally, s/he is going to complain.

But is this really spam?

An organization is trying to help relatives find a missing person, and they’re doing this free of charge. Should the organization really be blamed? After all, it’s trying to help, even if the methods used haven’t been chosen wisely.

However, experience tells us that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The people who organize mass mailings of this type undoubtedly profit from them. The email itself contains a link to a marketing agency which conducts mass mailings about missing persons. However, this agency’s main activity is electronic marketing. Mass mailings, even if they’re conducted free of charge, can be used by such agencies as indirect marketing of their other (pay) services. However, this mailing targets users throughout the world, most of whom can’t help in the search for a US citizen, however, much they want to. In spite of this, the information is still sent to users around the world – if it wasn’t, the agency wouldn’t be able to claim that the email had gone to 40 – 50 million addresses.

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