The first spam email: how did it appear?

The first spam email: how did it appear?

Spam is one of the main problems of the Internet nowadays. It overloads your inbox, infects the computer system, and doesn't do anything good to your PC or email client. In Internet Archaeology, we dig into the history of significant web and tech events and inventions, so in this article, you will find out where this so well-known and familiar to every internet user spam is coming from and who is the "evil genius" inventor, and what does it have to do with canned meat.

Where is spam coming from?

It’s not a secret that spam is among the most hated Internet phenomena. Only in the U.S., the spam industry generates around $20 billion yearly in damages, and the share of spam in email traffic in 2020 amounted to 50.37%, according to Securelist. Why is spam so successful? Well, it’s easy: it helps to reach a large number of people at almost no cost, and it still is one of the best conductors for phishing and malware distribution.

You would ask: But who invented spam then? The inventor of spam is an American marketer Gary Turk. He launched the first mass email in 1978 at ARPANET, a prototype of the modern internet created by DARPA. At that time, he was working for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), producing computers with built-in support for ARPANET. He sent an invitation to 400 network users to see the computers but didn’t know that the maximum number of recipients was 320, so part of the email addresses went to the email body.

© Arpanet

Some DARPA employees were annoyed by the message and complained about it, others reacted with more understanding. However, DARPA filed a complaint against DEC and forbade such mailings in the future. So at this time, spam disappeared for some time before returning triumphantly with the commercialization of the Internet.

The word “spam” was introduced in the ’90s after the mass advertising mailings and British comedy troupe Monty Python’s sketch about canned meat “Spam” everywhere, coming from every corner. If we can distinguish spam from actual email with time, we still have to learn how to recognize and avoid scams.

Monty Python
© Monty Python

Internet Archaeology