Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lying Is Not Free Speech

Another doozie from yet another batch of rampant criminal pharmacy spammers:

The United States National Medical Association

Do you buy pharmaceuticals online? The US NMA was specifically established to protect the consumer. Our experts check every online shop for bogus medicines. The blacklist of unreliable or simply fraud shops is updated every week. We strongly recommend to visit our site before buying any medical products online. visit us

Our site http://www.us-nma.com/

The common ways of online cheating are:
- delivery of low quality or fraud products.
- an enormous delay (up to 2-3 months) in delivery of products.
- shops obtain all the credit cards numbers and other credit information and then simply send nothing.
- shops sell unlicensed products they know nothing or very little about.
- shops themselves don't have a license to sell the pharmaceuticals.

Please check our blacklist of unreliable and fraud shops before buying any medical products online!!! Protect your family and yourself.


With all due respect and care.

They forgot another way of course: Lying about being the so-called United States National Medical Association. [rolling my eyes.]

Fortunately that domain is now parked, thanks to the dilgent reporting of spam like this by people who are fed up with receiving it like myself.

The fact that illegal pharmacy spammers resort to such tactics to confuse the public is deplorable. They still consider this type of messaging to be either "free speech" (which is a bogus claim and I'll get to that in a moment) or "marketing". Neither claim is true when the message is a litany of bald-faced lies.

I'll use my old standby company, Coca Cola, as an example again. And no I don't work for Coca Cola, nor do I have any affiliation with them. They're just a good example of long-standing well-documented marketing practices.

Coca Cola used to put copy in their ads which claimed that drinking Coke was "healthful", and "recommended by doctors." We're talking the 1890's through the early 1900's here, when marketing claims were much less easy to regulate. They got into loads of trouble when it naturally turned out that neither claim was true. The drink consisted of high amounts of sugar and corn syrup, which is neither healthful nor recommended by doctors anywhere in the world. They faced a huge amount of criticism over these claims and eventually had to stick to more "fun" messaging in their ads. (e.g.: "Coke Is It!")

For decades, cigarette manufacturers used to make very similar claims, even paying actual doctors to appear in advertisements claiming that smoking was "healthful" and "energizing". We all know how that turned out.

If a pharmaceutical company makes false claims, they can be sued, fined, and put out of business. Their products can be removed from shelves or recalled by the FDA or other organizations around the world. Naturally: many of these companies now think extremely carefully before making an even slightly erroneous statement, and their advertising is highly regulated in almost every country in the world. It's often said that more money is spent by pharmaceutical companies on marketing than they pay for R&D for their actual products. That isn't hard to believe. It's because of how specifically regulated the marketing of pharmaceuticals has become, and it's definitely a good thing that this is the case. The public's safety should be paramount when it comes to unverified marketing claims regarding drugs which can (and do) have massive side-effects. As a consumer, I'd certainly like to know that someone was making sure that the ads for these drugs were not packed full of lies, as the above-quoted message clearly is.

Spammers don't seem to think they need to fit this same standard. They can say whatever they want if it means they will grab a little bit of your hard-earned cash. And if you happen to be slightly less educated than most, that's just fine by them because you'll probably never research the claims they make. I can save you the trouble: not one word of any piece of copy in any pharmacy spam is true. Not one claim on any of their sites is true either. All of them boldly include icons and bogus links claiming that they have the "support" or "sponsorship" of a variety of organizations. Some of them are genuine organizations like the Better Business Bureau or the Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA). Of course: none of these organizations actually supports or endorses these sites, quite the opposite. The spammers don't care. They flaunt it. They rub our noses in it. They keep lying.

This abuse of these logos has almost become the hallmark of a typically illegal pharmacy, which is not good for the actual watchdog organizations themselves. If they can't police the use of their own name or logo: what's the point of them actually existing in the first place?

So: how can they get away with it? They claim it's "just marketing." I call bullshit. If I walk around any downtown street with a jar full of sand and claim that it's the cure for cancer, that's not marketing. In fact that can be classified as "harmful speech", and "endangering the public welfare". I can be arrested for creating a public nuisance for doing so. If someone who has cancer buys it, and dies of cancer, I can be charged with facilitating their death, since sand is rather obviously not the cure for cancer. If I give a dying woman with a heart condition what I claim to be heart medicine and tell her to pay me "only $2 a pill" and it turns out to be sugar: She can die, and her family or estate can sue me for wrongful death, or even murder, since it was obviously sugar that I gave her. That's not marketing. It's lying.

Not only are the "products" offered by these illegal sites of questionable content (and there is a lot of research out there to attest to that statement,) the used-car-style marketing pitches they use in their millions of spam messages are eggregiously illegal in their use of non-stop lies. The public is at risk, and nobody is stopping these criminals from continuing to send these same messages, or from profiting from the victims they scam every day.

Is any of this "free speech"? It's another claim a lot of particularly stupid spammers like to make, usually those based within the continental U.S. There's a huge gaping hole in that argument though, and it's right there in the U.S. Constitution's first amendment, the same amendment all these U.S.-based lying spammers love to hide behind. It's a bit of a thorny discussion, but as with most legal issues: if you do your research, you'll discover that sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. Yes, some commercial speech is free speech. That is mostly limited to Joe Homeowner putting a "for sale" sign on his lawn. (And in fact, there is actual case law regarding that exact use of "free speech.") There are amendments so that larger corporations (including the likes of Pfizer) can tell people about their heavily regulated products without having to have each commercial last several minutes instead of 30 seconds.

However: that doesn't mean that you can say whatever you want in an advertisement, and then turn around and call that "free speech." Similarly: An average citizen cannot threaten someone with death, and claim that they were exercising their "free speech rights." Neither the law, the constitution, or this amendment allow for these acts toi be protected.

And I quote:

certain commercial speech is not entitled to protection; the informational function of advertising is the First Amendment concern and if it does not accurately inform the public about lawful activity, it can be suppressed.

The message I quoted above purely violates that amendment. It's only one of several hundred such messages I receive daily.

It's lying in its statement of who it claims to represent (The United States National Medical Association). If one were to look that up, they would discover that the actual NMA describes itself as "the largest and oldest national organization representing African-American physicians and their patients in the United States." [Wikipedia] That kind of misrepresentation is considered libelous, and the Actual NMA would have a rock solid case, should they choose to sue these malicious and illegally-operating spammers.

The message further lies about their so-called "blacklist". There is no such list.

And of course they're lying about their claim of being "specifically established to protect the consumer".

They also lie about having "experts" on their staff, at least when it comes to any kind of medical expert. The only "experts" they hire are criminals who are adept at lying and hijacking public servers, and who can create botnets to infect the public's PC's so that they can then be used by these same criminals for spamming messages like these.

The day that someone cracks down on these imbeciles will be a great day indeed. In the meantime we have more of this crap coming by the hour. I for one don't intend to take it sitting down.

SiL / IKS / concerned citizen

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Spamming And Marketing Are Two Different Things

Spammers continue to assume that spamming anyone, regardless of their interest in their products and services, is a great business plan.

Dollar (aka Swank, aka Christopher J. Brown) posted the following quite a while ago (Oct. 2006):

...this industry is full of immature haters, losers and competitors that hate to see you doing things. Having haters is a sign that youve made it in this industry.

He's wrong of course. One can be a completely compliant mailer and obey laws and not use hijacked machines to perform their business functions and they will significantly reduce the number of people who hate them.

If you spam me, and I object to it, and in response you spam me three times as much as last time: what do you THINK my reaction is going to be? If you keep doing it for weeks, months and years on end: how much better do you think my opinion of you will get? How much will I respect you?

I have a couple of email addresses which have been on somebody's spam lists since the late 1990's. I never asked to be put on them and they were likely scraped from ancient postings on usenet and old websites. There's nothing I can do about that. And now these same spammers are re-selling the lists which include my address, and they simply don't care that in the 10+ years I've been on them: I've never purchased anything from them, and I have never clicked on any of their ridiculous tracking links. They will never see dollar one from me, ever, as long as I live. Yet the messages continue to flood my and millions of other people's inboxes. They seem to think this is a winning business strategy. If dollar is one of these idiots: I'm shocked that he's "made it" in any industry much less bulk unsolicited email marketing.

I have nothing against an individual who chooses email as a marketing tool. However if that same individual starts choosing my email address apropos of nothing to start promoting products I would never in my lifetime wish to hear about: how is that good business sense? Hardcore career spammers see this kind of complaint as mere whining and fail to address it, and then wonder why they get arrested for doing precisely that. I will never understand this mentality.

Marketing thrives on recognizing and addressing a target group of consumers. It's been this way since the first flyer was deposited in a mailbox. You fit a certain age, gender and educational demographic, you will eventually see marketing targeted specifically for you. You may not want it, and for most traditional (a.k.a.: legal or legitimate) marketing formats, you can complain about it, and in most companies the company that sent you their materials has to stop doing so. Spamming - and by spamming I mean indiscriminate, uncleaned list, wholesale email blasting - is quite different. Everyone receives it, studies show that far less than 0.1% of that audience wants it, and everyone is spending lots of money to stop it from getting through. Spammers in return double their efforts to get around these countermeasures.


Who are the idiots who are finally throwing their hands up in the air and suddenly buying fake Viagra, at risk of their health and their personal data, upon receiving yet another unsolicited, misspelled spam message, probably with heavy obfuscation and an image attachment? Who are these people? Why are they sending their hard-earned money to these miscreants? It just simply does not make any sense. If I weren't seeing any of this spam, I would scarcely believe that anyone would click through it, much less continue on to placing an order, but apparently somebody out there is freakishly stupid enough to do so.

Spammers make the same highly misinformed claims over and over again:

  1. They are rich, and we envy them for it (discussed previously on this very blog.)

  2. Complaints - especially lots of them - are a sign of success in the spam industry.

  3. Spamming is perfectly legal and "just another form of marketing".

  4. If you don't like it, you can "just delete it". How hard is that to understand?

  5. If they weren't spamming you, somebody else would anyway.

  6. Marketing is everywhere, you should just get used to this form of "marketing" as well.

I don't need to go into laborious detail as to why these are all completely false claims.

Everybody by now knows that when you receive 20,000 spam messages and in the midst of them are the three or four genuine messages you actually wanted to read, you can't "just delete" all of them. You have to weed your way through them in the hopes that you don't accidentally delete a genuinely wanted message. This is time consuming and frustrating for pretty much everybody out there who receives email.

Marketing, and by marketing I mean genuine, legitimate, professional marketing, has rules and guidelines surrounding it which career spammers do not follow. For example: I, as an individual or a citizen, cannot just brazenly put up a huge billboard on someone else's building or vehicle. I can't erect that same billboard on land I do not own. I can't call your phone number if you have explicitly entered it onto a "do not call" list. If I violate any of these rules, you could sue me. People do get sued for these infractions and they can face severe punishment including heavy fines and revocation of business licenses for doing so. I can't enter your house and put up posters promoting my product either. There are numerous civil laws which prevent me from performing such activities on property which is not mine.

There's also the small matter of the cost of these forms of marketing. You have to invest a huge amount of time, money and effort to pull of a successful billboard, radio or TV ad campaign. Coca Cola spend billions of dollars every year on TV ads alone and it's a very successful method of marketing for them. Part of the reason Coca Cola is not lumped in with the likes of these career spammers is because they want a very specific message to reach a fairly specific (though widespread) demographic: thirsty young people. If they started sending emails in the same way that these spammers are doing you can absolutely guarantee that they would be vilified and investigated for doing so. There are rules. Coca Cola is following them. Spammers are not.

Spammers ignore all of that and make the blanket statement that spamming is "just another form of marketing." We see billboards every day. Do we complain about them as much as we do about spamming? Of course not. Do we complain about all the TV ads we see every day? Some of us do. But again there's a difference.

If spammers ran the TV ad industry, not only would there be more ads, there would be several hundred of them in sequence, leaving you a measly 2 minutes of actual TV program to watch for every hour of TV you spent watching. People do hate TV ads, but again: there are very specific rules around how often, at what time, and over what period of time you will end up seeing an ad. If I was watching a new episode of Lost and the first commercial break showed me 79 TV ads for a bogus drugstore: I would turn off my TV. I would also complain to the producers of lost that they had "Lost" me as a viewer for good unless they stopped this rampant marketing of products which don't appeal to me. People have done this, and networks have paid attention to this type of complaint.

My comparison of spamming to urination still holds as far as I'm concerned. People urinate every day, several times a day. That doesn't mean that it's okay to urinate anywhere you want, or on people, or on public transit, or at the dinner table. There are specific places to do this, and if you want people to respect you and not be offended, you'll do it where you're supposed to. Nor should you be surprised when people get angry with you for doing so, especially if you keep doing it when asked to stop.

There are rules.

Why this is not obvious to spammers is thoroughly perplexing.