(TL;DR: Holy shit yes.)
I’m going to take a break from the long search engine posts and do something a little more fun.
I assume that if you check your “Spam” email folder, you’d see familiar topics. Viagra, make money online, random strangers asking for money, etc. Most of them are automatically filtered or, if not, would be clearly spotted as spam by us.
I always wondered what the point was. There’s no way these actually work, right? For these companies to make money, these things would have to happen:
- The email would have to get past the spam filter. If you’re using Gmail, that is very difficult.
- The recipient would have to believe the email is legitimate. Seems improbable for most of them.
- The recipient would have to read the email and click on whatever link was in it. Most of these are from foreign spammers or are written by robots, so this also seems improbable.
- The recipient would have to think the website is legitimate (most look like crap) and actually purchase the product via the website. I suppose if you’ve come this far this doesn’t seem so far off.
The combination of all of these seems so tiny that it would never happen, right? Well, it apparently happens a LOT.
In the first Wired magazine I ever read, there was a quick article about these probabilities. It amazed me, and I now see how it does work. Apparently, a “botmaster” computer takes control of a bunch of “middlemen” computers (through an otherwise-innocuous virus of some kind), and orders them to each send out a ton of emails, hoping the 4 steps above do happen. It breaks down to something like this:
Daily Revenue = # Emails sent per middleman * # Middlemen computers * % of emails Delivered * % of emails that get through the spam Filter * % of recipients that Visit the site * % who Buy something * average Purchase price.
R = E * M * D * (F * V) * B * P
Which ends up being about:
R = 1.7 million/day * ~550 * 23.8% * (0.0127%) * 0.266% * $100
So you can see that our 4 conditions from above (F*V*B, or those that got past the Filter and caused a Visit and something was Bought) only account for a 0.000008% success rate of these spam emails. Or:
AND, that’s only for the 24% of emails that even get delivered (most go to inactive emails). How is it worth it?!
E * M is how. 1.7 million for each of the 550 computers, and remember, that’s daily. That’s 935 million emails a day, or almost 650,000 a minute. After 650,000 emails are sent out, there’s a 5% chance someone purchased something. So, over the course of the day, it takes about 19 minutes to make a $100 sale.
How would you like to make $5/minute?
Obviously, spam like this is the scum of the internet, but the point is, it’s effective. What if you could find a way to use this power for good? Short of that, what if you used the $2.7 million/year this generates to fund orphanages?
Our economy has changed, and there are loopholes aplenty. Something to think about :).
(P.S.: Thank you to one dedicated commenter named Sean for pointing out some math errors I made. The original figure per-minute figure was much higher. Still, $5/minute aint bad!)