Spammers, Support Groups, and Twelve Steps

1709This week, we explore a dark and disturbing social disease caused by spamming, an ever-growing problem for young spammers in the wild: out-of-work spammers. A serious issue, out-of-work spammers just can’t afford to get that second Lear jet, buy a couple of hundred million’s worth of Facebook stock just so they can use it as toilet paper, or even put really expensive ketchup on their Kraft Dinner. No, the out-of-work spammer is a serious social issue, second only to child sex slaves and the human rights atrocities occurring in Syria. Fortunately for you and me, Microsoft Sweden has it covered, and what seems like a tremendously bad joke is actually no laughing matter at all.

Imagine my surprise this Sunday morning as I (figuratively) leafed through the pages of the Interwebs, catching up on my weekly review of all things spammy. Not much to report, really, which for me was a pleasant break from the normal glut of ludicrous news items about the state of e-mail spam. In fact, the biggest news item this week was, naturally, the increase in Father’s Day spam campaigns. If you haven’t already picked up some malware on your way to what you thought was a $19.99 cigar deal for dad, but instead landed on an Internet casino, then by all means click that link, Skippy (note: the link above is safe to click. It links to a story about the cigar deal).

But when I landed on and scrolled down to the venerable Terry Zink’s column, my general boredom turned to wonder, then curiosity, then a humorous grin, then a puzzling frown, and then to general confusion. This week, Terry’s picked up on what at face value appears to be a much-belated April Fool’s Day gag, late to the party and not that good a gag, to be sure. Terry reports on a program running out of Microsoft Sweden known as Spammers’ Aid. The article includes a brief video of a Swedish chap with the nicest English, explaining how Microsoft is putting out-of-work spammers back to work by, uhm, repurposing them, I suppose. The idea here is that they’re talented at bothering the hell out of people, so why not have them bother the hell out of people for legitimate reasons?

The ‘recruiting’ video, the one shown in Terry’s article, seems like a joke. The Swedish chap hardly seems for real, and all the while you watch it you’re waiting for some dude in a bad tux to jump out and tell you that you’ve been punked. Ha ha, you got me good, right? Now, I had to watch this video twice and then find other similar videos before I realized this is for real. If you doubt me, check out this recorded session. And, on Terry’s MSDN blog site, you can see the same story here. Note that while Terry is reporting this as the real deal, his skepticism leaks out a bit, too (note the question mark – “created and provided by Microsoft?”).

It hardly seems real, but it appears to be, and hell, it’s painful to look at. I don’t know what’s worse: the cheesy shtick of the guy in the recruiting video, crumpling up a piece of paper, giving the mandatory Joe Coolish ‘how are ya?’ to someone in the hallway as he follows the camera, or when he extends the chart line down to the floor; or how the poor woman delivering the session is practically apologetic when she points out that it’s Friday and it’s sunny, so all the spammers must be out riding bikes and tossing Frisbees to their dogs in the park. They certainly aren’t in the room.

Yes, it sure seems real, but perhaps that is the cruelest joke of them all. I suppose Microsoft Sweden isn’t hard at work working on Windows 8 and the Metro interface, so they need something else to keep them busy. And here I always thought that blondes have more fun. But really, Microsoft? What’s next, an annual charity concert featuring dozens of the world’s biggest acts? You wouldn’t need to change the name. Just call it Spammers’ Aid and hold it at Wembley Stadium…heck, you could probably even convince Bob Geldof to produce the thing. And I suppose if you’re going to run support groups for out-of-work spammers, you should probably have an AA style set of twelve steps for them to follow. Anyone care to suggest what they might be?

Get real.

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