As you work long hours to ensure your company complies with GDPR by May 25, it’s worth noting that proper use—or misuse—of data has been an issue for at least 40 years. Just ask Gary Thuerk, the self-described “father of spam,” who sent the first spam email out via ARPANET on May 3, 1978.
Whether Thuerk is the father of spam or the father of e-marketing is in the eye of the beholder. A marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., Thuerk had a problem to solve. He needed to promote a new line of computers in the DEC lineup, so he found a solution. He asked his assistant to commit the first known instance of email harvesting using the printed ARPANET directory, then send an electronic announcement of two upcoming California product demos.
ARPANET users responded swiftly and negatively to advertising infiltrating their system. And, they were none too thrilled that Thuerk and his assistant had either ignored or been ignorant of the 320-address limit per message. The additional addresses flowed into the subject line and the message itself. ARPANET officials called Thuerk’s message a “flagrant violation” of the network, which was for “official U.S. government business only.” One recipient wrote that no one should be allowed to send a message with a header that long, no matter the content. Others felt the contents were at least more pertinent than baby announcements.
In 2016, the marketing website DMN analyzed Thuerk’s message to see how it would fare against modern spam filters. Aside from the obvious problem—all capital letters!—the message would get caught up with its use of spammy words such as “offer” and “new.”
Still, Thuerk got the last laugh. Not only did he earn a rightful place in tech history, but also he estimates that message helped sell $13 million to $14 million in computers.