"Lose Weight," "Make a Fortune In Your Own Home," "Buy A Car For $100," and "Spy On People Online" are just some examples of the kind of junk e-mail or "spam" that we get every day. Then, of course, there is all the porn spam. I hate spam, and you probably hate it, too. The good news is, I think I know who could stop it. The bad news is, I doubt that they will.
I don't get how the spammers find out our names and e-mail addresses. I understand that if, for example, I buy a book about boxing, I might get e-mails about other boxing books or maybe even an ad for a punching bag. But I have never gone to a web site, hoping to see pictures of women who like to date farm animals. I don't like red meat, but I got one that said, "Buy 4 Steaks And Get 2 More For Only 1 Cent." I'm very happy with my reading ability, but I was just offered a bargain price on "Hooked On Phonics."
I guess sometimes the computers who peek at our computers get excited when they see things similar to products they're trying to foist on us. I know of an 80-year-old woman who ordered tickets online to the play, "The Puppetry of the Penis." Ever since then, she's been receiving Viagra ads as well as ads for products guaranteed to enlarge her penis. I don't know if this kind of mistake happens often, but I'm certainly not going online to order tickets to "The Vagina Monologues."
The annoyance factor of spam doesn't bother me as much as the incorrect profile of me that the spammers evidently have. I don't want to be thought of as someone who has fallen behind in my credit card payments because I have a mortgage at a bad rate that I got because I never got a degree online because I was too busy arranging my collection of angel figurines from Texas or daydreaming about how I might "attract men or women fast."
Who can stop all this? The big computer guys like Microsoft and Yahoo and the others. These people are smart enough to invent a way for us to communicate with anyone in the world instantaneously at almost no cost. They make computers that can talk better than some of our friends, and can listen better than most of our relatives. They figured out how we can take a photo of Uncle Bert and give him a full head of hair and a smaller waistline. Does anyone honestly think that they aren't smart enough to do away with spam?
But why would they want to? These companies and their clients want to keep looking at our computers and sending us spam. And they'll keep sending it unless somebody stops them.
The only one who can probably stop them is the government. Twenty-seven states have "do not call" lists to deter telemarketers from calling you on your home phone. The federal government just announced that there might be a national "do not call" list soon. If they can get involved in protecting us from unwanted phone calls, why can't they help us in stopping spam e-mails?
Laws need to be passed and enforced that ensure our privacy. But like the computer guys, the government doesn't want to increase our privacy. Attorney General Ashcroft and those who agree with him feel that being able to peek at our computers is necessary for the security of the country. I've never met Mr. Ashcroft, but I know what the people from his home state of Missouri think of him and his ideas. The last time he ran for office there, he lost to a dead guy.
So, unless we all complain louder and louder, spam will keep coming to us. And it will probably increase in number and vulgarity. Although it's hard for me to believe that it could get any more obscene than one I got last week. This vile spam was actually from someone who didn't like my last column.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2002 CBS. All rights reserved.