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The Boston Globe

Magazine

Perspective

Spam’s long shelf life

How my inbox won’t let me forget my past.

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, cyber security experts sabotaged the Grum botnet, a network of hundreds of thousands of infected computers that in its heyday churned out an estimated 18 billion junk e-mails each day — roughly one-third of the world’s spam. So farewell, Mr. Felix Bamba, “Accountant in reputable Bank in West Africa.” I hope you find a “co-confidant” to take that $25,500,000 off your hands.

This victory solves only part of the problem, though. The real clots in our in-boxes come from spam that is more insidious because it is actually legitimate —though no less annoying than ungrammatical pleas from shady strangers. This legacy spam consists of missives from actual companies with which we once had relationships: reminders of Amazon gifts ordered for ex-boyfriends, deals from restaurants best forgotten. Message after message recalls the person we once were and might never wish to be again. It’s the modern equivalent of cringing at your high school yearbook. Nowadays, the past is persistent and delivered via automated mailing list.

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