This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Gary Thuerk, Father Of . . .

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May 1, 1978: Earliest Record of Email Spam

The earliest documented spam (the term had not been coined yet) was a message advertising the availability of a new model of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) computers sent by Gary Thuerk to 393 recipients on ARPANET in 1978.

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Rather than send a separate message to each person, which was the standard practice at the time, he had an assistant, Carl Gartley, write a single mass e-mail. Reaction from the net community was fiercely negative, but hey, the spam did generate some sales.

Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high.

According to a Symantec Intelligence Report issued in February 2012, global spam levels continued to fall, as it accounted for 68% of global email traffic then.

According to a Symantec Intelligence Report issued in February 2012, global spam levels continued to fall, as it accounted for 68% of global email traffic then.

In 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages is around seven trillion. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge.

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Using spam to describe unsolicited email started in 1994. A mercenary programmer created a simple script which posted the same message from the now infamous lawyers Canter and Siegel to every single message board on USENET, the world’s largest online conferencing system.

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The computer geeks on the conference system – who clearly were big fans of Monty Python – identified the mass mailing as spam and the name caught on. Spam now makes up about 80 to 85% of email.

Hormel Foods Corporation, the maker of Spam luncheon meat, does not object to the Internet use of the term “spamming”. However, they did ask that the capitalized version “SPAM” be reserved to refer to their product and trademark.

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