A Definition of Spam

Unsolicited, Unwanted, Un-Asked For, and Bulk

Technical Definition of Spam

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;


  1. ) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent. Spam is an issue about consent, not content. Whether the UBE message is an advert, a scam, porn, a begging letter or an offer of a free lunch, the content is irrelevant - if the message was sent unsolicited and in bulk then the message is spam. Spam is not a sub-set of UBE, it is not "UBE that is also a scam or that doesn't contain an unsubscribe link", all email sent unsolicited and in bulk is Spam. This distinction is important because legislators spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to regulate the content of spam messages, and in doing so come up against free speech issues, without realizing that the spam issue is solely about the delivery method.

Important facts relating to this definition:

The sending of Unsolicited Bulk Email ("UBE") is banned by all Internet service providers worldwide.

Spamhaus' anti-spam blocklist, the SBL, used by more than 900 Million Internet users, is based on the internationally-accepted definition of Spam as "Unsolicited Bulk Email".

Therefore anyone sending UBE on the Internet, regardless of whether the content is commercial or not, illegal or not, needs to be fully aware that

  • (A) they will lose their Internet access if they send UBE and
  • (B) they will be placed on the Spamhaus Block List (SBL) if they send UBE.

Various jurisdictions have implemented legislation to control what they call "spam".   One particular example is US S.877 (CAN-SPAM 2004). Each law addresses "spam" in different ways, and as a consequence, often has different definitions of what they cover, whether they call it "spam" or not. Spamhaus uses the industry standard "unsolicited bulk email" definition which underlines "it's not about content, it's about consent". As such, arguments as to whether UBE messages are covered under CAN-SPAM or are compliant with CAN-SPAM, are entirely irrelevant.

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