How much are you worth to a spammer?

Spam mail. No matter how great the mail filters at our jobs, it still breaks through.  In addition to the ads for fake Rolex watches or offers to share the profits of some scheme, I’ve been subject to quite a bit of targeted spam from Christian publishers.

Listed against my will

Ad soliciting faculty addresses

My name made its way onto some list of Christian or Catholic bloggers, not by my wishes.  Agencies send me ready-made blog postings (no, I don’t use them), ask if I am interested in interviewing an author, or want other types of publicity. I know these people don’t read my blog, as they offer me products or ideas that are clearly at odds with it – even anti-Catholic postings.  Now I’ve discovered how they do it.

Spam email lists made by human hands

In preparation for showing students in my Research Methods class how experimental data is now gathered for pennies per subject via the internet, I signed on to Amazon Mechanical Turk – the site where people pay small sums of money for Turkers (workers) to carry out Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) – things that can’t be automated. There are dozens of jobs paraphrasing short advertising blurbs, characterizing images, and the like.

There, nestled among the HITs, was the task shown above: use Google to fill in the University and email address for Political Science / International Relations faculty.  The ad indicates that there are hundreds of these HITs and each asks for multiple addresses.  In no time at all, every Political Science faculty member in the country will begin getting notices of speakers, textbooks, political posters, educational videos – and they will make it through the Spam blocker because they are individually addressed.

Not worth a dime

How much are we worth? Less than a nickel a piece – the amount paid for someone to search more than one faculty name and address. My concern that my professional associations are selling their list are over.  The next time I’m offered “excellent” videos on racism or ready-made religious content, I’ll know: my identity was scraped onto a list so my eyeballs could be sold, over and over again, to advertisers.  If the Spammers are going to do this, I just wish they’d pay the Turkers a decent wage.


  1. This is piecework in a digital medium; how sickening. Late last week, I had some genuine e-mail to send out to a large group of faculty members (about 60 people, both here and abroad) for one of my faculty members. There were individualized attachments included, etc. I really thought hard about how to title the e-mail and how to phrase the message so that the recipients would recognize this as a legitimate message to which they should pay attention. Based on the response rate we’ve had, I seem to have succeeded; but I knew the whole time I was working on this project that I was going up against professionals who are out to do evil and not to get a textbook compiled.

  2. Anything to make a buck. I don’t believe there’s a single scheme out there that someone hasn’t thought of, and I find that extremely irritating. It almost makes me feel like a victim, and determined to never pay any attention to ANY unsolicited offers.

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