When anti-Spam activists went after uber-Spammer Alan Ralsky last month, they went after the wrong man.

The fact is that if Spam were limited to Nigerian scams, herbal Viagra and other rip-offs, the reach and size of the problem would be very limited. Honest businesses would have nothing to worry about.

But the fact is Spam works. This was proven when the first "legitimate" business turned to Spamming its customers, and when they got away with it on the bottom line.

The name of that business is Amazon.com.

Amazon changed its "privacy" policies two years ago, stripping away consumer protection in the name of saving itself. If you buy from Amazon you're on the list, like it or not. And even if you're not on the list, Amazon's e-mail is likely to find you.

I know this because my own domain, a-clue.com, has several "Spam trap" addresses. Most didn't start out to be Spam traps. For instance, I wanted to encourage people to send me their questions, so I briefly put up a "Q and A" section on my site.

I took it down a few months later, so now I know that anyone sending mail to "qanda" at a-clue.com is using a Spam list. And Amazon sends plenty there.

Since I have bought from Amazon, several times, much of the Spam I get from them is pretty sophisticated. It offers me deals based on what I bought in the past. They are pretty good offers, sometimes.

But -- it's still Spam. I didn't give Jeff Bezos explicit permission to send me any marketing e-mail. He took that as given when I bought something, then re-defined my e-mail address as his property on his own initiative.

But since he got away with it, the floodgates are open.

Just now I got a Spam from Bestbuy.com, advertising DVDs. And guess what? I never gave them this permission. They took it from my e-mail address, after I bought a stereo amplifier from them two years ago. So have Travel Smith and Peeper Sleepers. None age these lists, as they would print lists, because Spam is "free."

I have never bought infomercial crap like the Kwick-Pick or Pasta Pro. But those direct marketers apparently decided Spamming was for them, because I got a ton of offers from both this Christmas. I often got them in twos. Some thief hacked-into an e-mail digest I ran years ago and stole their lists at a time I was on there twice, so I know where their source is.

Spamming through re-sellers is also popular. I get a lot of this from DirecTv and Symantec. Then it's a very short hop to the University of Phoenix hiring a Spam gang to sell online degrees, or Columbia House sending out Spam that forces-open pop-up windows (or hangs up my system if my browser is off while my e-mail system is on).

I know this last paragraph consists of true Spam because of the address forgeries. They're using different return domains for each Spam to foil basic Outlook Express filters.

The Spam gangs even brag about their work on the e-mail, noting it comes from "AdPro" or "Hi Speed Media." These are Spammers, they're bandwidth thieves, and every single move toward passing a law against Spam starts by defining the problem based on their forged headers.

I cover Spam for a living, and even I've had to get protection. Mailwasher (https://www.mailwasher.net) acts as a pre-inbox, tagging headers based on known blacklists and its own algorithms. It's not perfect, and I do spend some time manually overriding its decisions. But since nearly 90% of my e-mail is now Spam, I have to.

So, has the Direct Marketing Association (https://www.the-dma.org) which claims it's against Spam, and claims it has rules against it (https://news.com.com/2100-1023-822053.html), done anything meaningful about this?

No, they have not.

The fact is that for most businesses, Spam is not an either-or proposition. It's a question of ethics, and ethics often go overboard when your business survival is at stake.

This was proven first, of course, in the case of Amazon.com. When they got away with it, it opened the door for everyone else.

And that's why the effectiveness of e-mail marketing is disappearing. That's why even your opt-in notes risk getting you blacklisted. (Just now I got an invoice from my ISP, and since I got copies for two separate domains, their own anti-Spam system tagged both messages as "possible Spam.")

And that's why I say the anti-Spam activists missed the boat when they went after an unapologetic crook like Alan Ralsky. If you really want to go after someone, go after someone who is subject to being shamed, someone who at least claims to be a legitimate businessman, but whose actions sent everyone else in the e-commerce realm down that slippery slope that leads to Ralsky.

Go after Jeff Bezos instead.

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Dana Blankenhorn  (danablankenhorn@mindspring.com) is the author of the new book, The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You, available at Amazon.Com.