Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“Exploring Alternatives to Emails” Series - Unsolicited Emails

Unsolicited Emails
 “Email fatigue” occurs when a user ignores a large number of email messages after falling behind in reading and answering them.” – Lawrence Lessig, Harvard University.

While the advent of email has forever changed our business models and methodologies for communication and marketing, the sheer volumes of unsolicited emails have given most of us cause to search for alternatives. In this segment, I will address the different types of unsolicited emails we are inundated with on a continuous basis, the how and why, and more importantly actions you can take to reduce each.  

“Ham” versus “Spam”
Spam, “junk mail”, or unsolicited bulk email (UBE) accounts for 78% of all electronic messages – that’s 229 billion spam messages sent out daily!  These “messages” are not only ubiquitous and unavoidable, but often even dangerous to the health of our computer / devices. These unsolicited bulk “messages” can and often do include links or attachments connecting us to phishing software and malware. Because spammers are able to collect our data from sites we visit, create viruses to harvest our contact lists often undetected, and more, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all spam. Today, the best methodology for defending yourself against spam is to empty the spam folder in your mailbox without opening or responding to the sender. Of course, that's if what is in your spam folder was properly categorized.

Phishing is the attempt to “bait” you in order to obtain personal information from your virtual mailbox, computer and even wallet, most commonly: usernames, passwords, credit card and bank information. Most phishing occurs when we respond to spam “bait” with malicious links or attachments, taking us to a fictional website that prompts for personal information. As a rule of thumb, you should drive to your bank’s website. Phishing has been one of the many online sharks to avoid since 1995; banks and vendors will not send emails soliciting your personal information, as a result.  It is also important to use Tools – Delete Browsing – Delete Phishing Filter Data on a regular basis to ensure no doors have been left open in your mailbox.

Malware, short for malicious software, covers the gamut for codes, scripts, active content and other intrusive and hostile software created by hackers for the purpose of disrupting your computer function or hard drive, to gain access to your computer without your consent, and to obtain your personal information. Malware is most commonly known in the form of: viruses, worms, spyware and adware. The best defense to block these attacks remains anti-virus and anti-malware software, and firewalls. When in doubt, drag and drop to the spam folder, without opening, and empty the folder immediately. Regular scans and diagnostics of your computer are also affective for identifying, quarantining, and eliminating undetected malware and back doors.

Unsolicited Marketing Emails - “Subscriptions”
Just about every business has attempted to use their contact lists for mass marketing via electronic mail, much like snail mail in the 80s and prior. Often these emails account for a large chunk of the messages we consider an annoyance. While dealing with these individually requires times, it usually leads to a resolution. Valid commercial marketers are required to provide you with an unsubscribe button, removing your email address and eliminating future incoming mail. Valid businesses also provide unsubscribe buttons on their websites.

Taking the time to read and respond to the privacy policies of every online retailer, ISP, etc. is a task which is often "clicked through" and ignored. Most collect, distribute and use your address and information, preferences, etc. for advertising purposes. They often have a marketing preferences screen where you can uncheck boxes to remove your email address from their marketing and promotional lists, and their “partner” lists. All businesses are required to provide you with a more definitive option to stop unsolicited marketers, most often referred to as a Customer Proprietary Network Information or CPNI Restriction Request.

“At the bottom, the elimination of spyware and the preservation of privacy for the consumer are critical goals if the Internet is to remain safe and reliable and credible.”  – Cliff Stearns

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