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Standard for E-mail "spam"

Decades ago I worked with the team at MAPS (the world's first anti-spam company; "MAPS" is "SPAM" spelled backward, and we had it mean "Mail Abuse Prevention System") to work up a standard by which a given single e-mail message could be determined to be "spam" or not. This is because a lot of the people who wanted to send bulkish e-mail that nobody wanted to receive were just as cute as they could be about skirting definitions that involved streams of e-mail.

I published it at and I referred to this online location in Chapter 10 of the Second Edition of Sendmail: Theory and Practice. Later we sold the MAPS company to Trend Micro to get money to pay lawyers. At some point Trend Micro redid their web site so that the Standard for spam is no longer at its historic location.

Ergo, hereis.


An electronic message is ``spam'' IF: (1) the recipient's personal
identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable
to many other potential recipients; AND (2) the recipient has not
verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it
to be sent; AND (3) the transmission and reception of the message appears
to the recipient to give a disproportionate benefit to the sender.


(i) Trivial or mechanised personalization such as ``Dear Mr. Jones, we see
that you are the holder of the JONES.COM domain'' does not make the
personal identity of the recipient relevant in any way.

(ii) Failing to click the ``do not send me marketing literature by e-mail''
button in a web sign-up form does not convey explicit permission. Only when
the default result is ``no followup e-mail'' AND the inbox impact is
clearly stated before any action which changes this result, can permission of
this kind be conveyed.

(iii) The appearance of disproportionate benefit to the sender, and the
relevancy of the recipient's specific personal identity, are authoritatively
determined by the recipient, and is not subject to argument or
reinterpretation by the sender.

(iv) Non-personal e-mail always places a disproportionate cost burden on the
recipient, and is considered to disproportionately benefit the sender unless
it was verifiably solicited or by the recipient's willing exception.

(v) A message need not be offensive or commercial in order to fit the
definition of ``spam.'' Content is irrelevent except to the extent necessary
to determine personal applicability, consent, and benefit.