Holiday Creeps…uhm, Creep…Approaching Fast

christmas_creepJust when you thought it was safe to go back to the inbox.

September is quickly becoming a distant, faded dream, and October – the symbolic beginning to the three-month mania that’s the holiday season – is in full swing. To most of us, that usually means stocking up on sweets for Halloween, decorating the front of our houses to satisfy no-one but ourselves, and hoping that this will be the year that we get all our Christmas shopping done before Santa Claus slides down our chimneys. To the three-headed beast known as spam, however, this is the time of year when all spammers’ dreams come true, if only they can get you to take a bite out of that juicy red apple deposited in your inbox.

‘Three-headed beast?’ you ask. Yes, the hydra that is spam comes in three forms: the bogus email that threatens to phish you out of lots of money, or infect you with some nasty malware so your computer becomes the unwitting servant of the spam overlord; the semi-legitimate message that offers you any number of goods that will change you into a rock-hard porn god with more penny stocks than brains; and the third is the ‘legitimate’ spam, perhaps the most evil of all the spam monsters, because while the others act as a thief in the night, this form of spam knocks down your door in the brightest light of day.

It’s the beginning of holiday creep, a phenomenon that’s less black magic and more greedy corporate marketing types, and it’s coming to an inbox near you. Holiday creep – formerly known as ‘Christmas creep’ – once marked the all-too-early beginning of the Christmas season, retail’s make-or-break time of the year. It’s creeped so far in the past several years, that now it stretches out into September, and by the time October hits, you won’t know what hit you. The reason for the extended marketing push is obvious. Technology and social media have made selling crap (even if it’s high-quality crap) a very lucrative online venture. The marketers, sleazy carpetbaggers who couldn’t care less how high your credit card interest rate is soaring, capitalize on the fact that you’re inundated with thoughts of getting your shopping done, even if that shopping is for the accoutrements that will adorn your Thanksgiving feast this year.

That axiom proves true for the criminal spammers, too. They’re relying on you to make online purchases, expect packages from FedEx and UPS, and generally be too harried to tell the difference between a real email and an evil one. The difference here is that we expect those sleazebags to be sleazebags; but what happens when marketers for legitimate firms go too far? What about the sleazy marketing firms that live in the limbo separating the black world of criminal spam and the light of the legitimate world?

The answers aren’t easy. Email marketers have taken a huge black eye over the past several years, becoming a real threat to our security because they blur the difference between black and white hats. Marketing organizations go out of their way to inform their membership of all the do’s and don’ts of emailing, for example, an article from earlier this year entitled “Eight Simple Rules to Evade the SPAM Folder,” a discourse on how to ensure that their (‘they’ being the marketers) unwanted message gets to you. Now, think about that statement for a second, because the operative word here is ‘unwanted.’ A marketing executive – and I should know, because I was one in a past life – will vehemently defend his position, stating that it would be a travesty if they didn’t give you the choice of purchasing a superior product (one that you absolutely need, mind you), at a competitive price. And that’s the fuzzy philosophy of marketing. Marketers think, in a twisted logic kind of way, that they’re doing you a favor, even if that favor is selling you crap you don’t need. And that makes them every bit as dangerous as the black hat spammer.

Holiday creep will confuse and befuddle the average user, adding to the mix an already dangerous minefield of messages laden with malicious links. And corporations, hyper-focused on shareholders who require a profit come Christmastime, don’t much care how they get to you. It’s become such a common business, selling information has, that we don’t much seem to mind when we find out that our bank, in addition to making buckets of money on interest and service charges, sells our information for even more money. And we don’t much think about it anymore, when a clerk at a cash register asks us for an email address. It’s just the way of the world.

Perhaps we need to reconsider how valuable our information is. And, in honor of holiday creep, we should rename September to Spamtember.