I’ve literally just sat down for a quick Sunday evening email check and discovered that I’ve been Skammed! James Enck coined the term Skam to mean Skype Spam.

Doing a quick search for Skype Spam, I found that it’s not a recently phenomenon – it goes way back. An Engadget article noted users experiencing Skams more than 2 years ago (dated March 2005). It’s strange – I’ve been on Skype for quite a while now and this is the first time it’s happened. Maybe I’ve been lucky up ’til now…

Anyway, here’s the Skam I received (edited – as I don’t give the Skammers more publicity than they deserve!):

My dear friend :
I'm sorry to bother you!
We are one of the biggest international trade wholesalers of China,we can offer you laptop. Digital cameras, videos, GPS, cell phone, mp4, game console and many other electronic products.If you want to do business, we can offer you the furthest reasonable discount and bring you the greatest profits.
If you have time, please visit our website or contact us by E-mail or talk with us on MSN derectly, we are willing to provide saticfaying services to you at any time.
I'm sorry to have taken so much of your time, Thanks!
Website :http://www.usd*.cn
E-mail :usd*@hotmail.com
MSN :usd*@hotmail.com
skype :http://www.usd*.cn

To say the least, I am far from saticfayed with this type of marketing practice! I’ve a good mind to verbally harass them derectly on MSN :P . But what would be the point of doing this? I doubt I could change their minds as to this type of practice. On the upside, at least they were polite…

I have to admit, part of me was outraged. My Skype chat facility is no longer the private domain that I have been used to (I haven’t conferenced with Skype yet!) . A bit like my privacy has been intruded upon. Like being burgled. I feel cheap, dirty and used – okay… now I’m pushing this literary theme across the line of farce but I think you get my point.

And curiously, another part of me was intrigued. I’m fascinated with technology and automation, so a part of me has been left wondering “how *did* they do that?“. I’m quite certain that there isn’t a little Chinese fella typing out individual messages to everyone they can find in a Skype directory (note: why are they always stereotypically “little”? I’ve know quite tall Chinese people in my time but I’m going to run with this as it’s the Englishness in my Asianness that makes this wording sound okay to me!) .

But these Skams have implications.

Does this mean that now I’ll need to be clearing out my Skype junk as well as the spam that I regularly find in my inbox? It’s 2 years since this was first noted – why hasn’t something been done about it? It would seem that anyone can contact me using the chat facility in Skype regardless of whether or not they’ve made it onto my approved list. Why?

As referenced in the Engadget article, Om Malik makes some excellent points about unsolicited file transfers (or worse) in the future using Skype. It’s bad enough that links were provided – my little girl is on Skype, what would have happened if something more perverse than a Chinese electronic goods seller had sent the link? Thankfully, she’s got quite a lot of nous and knows not to talk to strangers (and that includes IM!).

Shouldn’t this type of unsolicited chat message be stopped? (Can they be?)

There will always be indiscriminate marketers employing dark arts to entice the unwitting (witless?). And I’m certain that, while they may not have made a customer of me, there are probably countless others out there in cyberspace that have been lured into purchasing from them.

But is this type of marketing really that dark?

As someone new to Internet Marketing, it made me ask questions of myself: to what extent should we protect the rights of the consumer from unsolicited advertising** online?

It’s a difficult question for me to answer because I know that traditionally, advertising has always been out there. You only need to go out and be subliminally bombarded by billboards or flick through a newspaper or magazine to register, out of the corner of your eye, the tempting ads littered around the copy. You can’t escape it.

So why is it that this form of online advertising – directly through my Skype chat – feels different?

Does it comes down to a notion of public and private spaces? And if so, then where are these lines drawn? I need only to fire up MSN Messenger to find the advertisers lurking on the left hand side and bottom of my contact list. IM is similar to Skype in terms of functionality – so why should there be a difference between the reminders to purchase on IM than a direct chat message on Skype?

Ah, I hear you say, perhaps it’s to do with “choice”. With the Instant Messenger advertisers, the user has the choice to click on the ads!

Well, let’s assume that this is true. Users *do* have choices about what they click on – an objection here would be that the issue here is really about the delivery of the message.

On the one hand, the argument goes that it’s due to the user choosing to click on the advert – but how did they come to see the advert in the first place? A user actively clicking and going to a site doesn’t necessarily want to be bombarded with adverts (Google adsense ads etc.). But is it because they’ve chosen to visit the site that they are suddenly fair game for being bombarded with these messages in a similar unwanted way as the Skype Skammer delivers his message?

It’s true that I had no choice in receiving the Skam message. But it’s also true that I don’t have a choice in receiving the rotating banners adverts at the bottom of my Messenger application. So why does one feel (relatively) acceptable while the other doesn’t?

Like I say – I don’t have the answers. Although I think it’s good for every Internet Marketer to ask themselves these questions. Perhaps someone could help enlighten me on this area as I seem to be going round and round in circles!

Personally, Skamming and direct automated messages of any type (like Spam) doesn’t sit well with me. I believe that there’s an art to persuasion. It’s an art I’m trying to learn (so buy something from me NOW! Just kidding! Sledgehammer/nut anyone?).

I’m not na├»ve enough to think that this will ever stop. There are always grey areas. While there are people who would oppose this form of “spam” and others who are in favour of it, the question should also be asked about the consumer’s responsibility for the act of visiting a site and purchasing a product. The site I was directed seemed to have quite a few electronic goods that I can imagine would tempt some people. Consumers buying through this site, who had originally been sent a direct Skype message, could probably argue that the message was timely and served as a useful reminder to buy something they would otherwise have put off. Maybe the spam was useful to them…

So what *is* a legitimate means of obtaining a new customer? In my mind, I find it difficult to argue in favour for this type of “spam” – regardless of whether the customer does end up with the product that he was after. There’s something cold and calculating about gaining a customer by any means available. Just because it’s possible, it doesn’t mean that it *should* be done. To my mind, the goal here was financial benefit. But for me, good business practice is about mutual benefit.

But like I say, I don’t have the answers… this is just what I think!

What do you think?

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*Note: According to the definition by Google, Dang is a place in India where, I can imagine, it is pretty hot at the moment. Unless it’s the monsoon season. In which case it’ll probably be hot and wet. Just like how I like my Rich Tea biscuits.

**Note: Advertising and marketing are two distinct areas but generally go together. From what I understand, Advertising aims to provide awareness of a product to result in more sales. The aim of Marketing has been said to make selling superfluous – Peter Drucker reminds us that “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits her and sells itself.”