Spam Kings, hardcover edition: The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters Pushing Porn, Pills, and %*@)# Enlargements Hardcover – Oct 28 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
With monikers like Shiksaa, Dr. Fatburn, Mad Pierre and Terri Tickle, the subjects of McWilliams's debut often sound cut straight from pulp or comic-book noir farce— despite being real. A brisk narrative sets immediately on the trail of one of them: Davis Hawke, a chess-geek neo-Nazi turned spam lord. We also meet Shiksaa, a frustrated AOL user turned antispam vigilante who, along with a posse of like-minded netizens, fights running battles with spammers like Hawke, the man behind countless herbal Viagra offers and get-rich-quick schemes. McWilliams, an experienced business and technology reporter, manages, at his best, to make stories of people glued to their computers read like a thriller. His true (if virtual) crime tale's quick pacing and use of online exchanges provide relief from details of how, technically, spam kings operate (not always gripping moments: "Hawke purchased and downloaded a copy of Extractor Pro from the company's Web site"). This helps McWilliams pull a lively tale from the messy web of computer-geek criminality and righteous antispammer reprisal—and one from which spam-beleaguered computer users may take heart.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Brian McWilliams has been reporting on business and technology issues for over twenty years. His articles have appeared in online publications such as Wired.com and Salon.com as well as in magazines including PC World, Computerworld, InformationWeek, CFO, Across the Board, and Inc. McWilliams gained international attention in 2002 when he wrote about the contents of Saddam Hussein's email inbox.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
One thing I noticed throughout this book was the exceedingly high level of nastiness and contempt shown by the spammers. It proves once again there are lots of predators in the online world. No, this isn't a book about how to get rid of spam or guard yourself against it, but it does provide a fascinating story of greed, stupidity (on the part of those who do indeed buy product from spammers), and how some dedicated individuals are trying to put an end to it.
There is fast moving action in every chapter. It took a few pages to realize it is not fiction. The very first paragraph is indicative of much more to come: "People are stupid, Davis Wolfgang Hawke thought as he stared at the nearly empty boxes of swastika pendants on his desk. It was April 22, 1999, two days after the one-hundredth anniversary of Adolph Hitler's birth. Orders for the red-and-black necklace had been pouring into his Knights of Freedom Nationalist Party web site every week since he built it nine months ago. The demand nearly outstripped what his supplier could provide. Hawke gazed out the window of his mobile home at the hazy South Carolina sky and thought: This is the ultimate hypocrisy. If even half of these people actually joined the party, I would have a major political movement. Instead all they want is a pretty, shiny pendant."
Davis Hawke, the leading character in this book, is exposed in the first chapter by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a Jew who is hiding his heritage after changing his name from Andrew Britt Greenbaum upon graduating from high school in 1996.
The first paragraph quoted above gives you a taste of the author's writing style, a lot of detail and descriptive prose in every paragraph. Some of the language is obscene.
Through eleven chapters we follow the parallel paths of Hawke and female spammer tracker Shiksaa (Susan Gunn) through the spam underworld. Readers will meet bizarre characters including:
- Sanford Wallace (Spam is a first amendment right).
- Jason Vale (Laetrile for cancer).
- Rodona Garst (Stock pump and dump scams by email).
- Thomas Cowles (Anonymous mortgages and pornography).
- Terri DiSisto (Home videos of young men being tickled).
- Alan Moore (Dr. Fatburn, diet pills and pirated software).
- Scott Richter (Internet's biggest "opt in" junk email operation).
The 11 page index contains many names, organizations, and references. Eight pages in a Glossary contain a long list of terms and definitions. Fourteen pages of Notes fooled me into believing this to be a very scholarly writing with appropriate End Note documentation. Not so, it is almost all a kind of calendar of dates when various events or emails occurred. These could easily have been included in the main text.
It was amazing to type Davis Hawke into Google and receive 157,000 entries, many of them for the leading Spam King in this book. Readers will have similar surprises when they do a search for the other characters or organizations. In the Epilogue there is no happy ending to this book. Davis Hawke has so far escaped the jail sentence some others have received. The CAN-SPAM act has done little to help.
The book is kind of a pseudo-biography of various real-life characters, hiding behind online personas. There are the spammers and their attempts to get junk to your inbox. There are the anti-spammers who track down the spammers and report that information to various spam fighting web sites. There are also several side stories to provide the setting and context for the story.
What I found most interesting was the fact that you could go out to the web sites referenced in the book and validate the information yourself. After reading the book, I went out to the NANAE (news.admin.net-abuse.email) group on Google and searched on some of the characters in the book. [ You'll find a discussion about this book itself as well - disagreements between some of the character's recollections of events and the author's descriptions - very entertaining ]
It was both an interesting and educational read, which I enjoyed. While I have a pretty good spam filter, it was educational to look at the spam that gets through my email fitler with a new perspective. I could track the originator of the spam to one of the spammers described in the book using web servers in China.
It makes you wonder how to fix the spam problem - or if there even is a fix.
I myself once battled those forces of dark evil known as spammers. Having cut my teeth on an Apple IIe and having entered the Internet Age using FTP, I saw a promising new medium get destroyed by the Spam creeps who sold their snake oil to the gullable.
The Internet suffers from the "Tragedy of the Commons", an economic theory that any common resource; water, fish, grazing fields, or Internet pipeline must be either managed by government agencies or privatized or it will be destroyed by capitalizm. Sadly, the behavior of humans and nothing more, is to blame.
I will end my review with a note of honors (you know who you are) to those who battled the Spammers, and to those who exploited the internet for selfish interests, I would send you something else but it would probably be illegal...
He also gives us insight into various antispammers that have arisen to combat this miserable scourge. Most notably, of Steve Linford, who runs Spamhaus, which is a global blacklist of the more egregrious spammers.
There is no happy ending to this book, unlike a work of fiction. The methods described to fight spam have limited efficacy. Spam is clearly shown to be a chronic problem. An open sore on the rear end of the Internet.
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