The spam industry is out of control


James Deakin

Has anyone else noticed how we always need to fill out a form, or show ID, and/or give out our personal data for almost everything we do or buy these days? Everything except to get a SIM card that can be used to spam, scam, harass or solicit people anonymously, that is. Oh, the irony… I often wonder whether or not that is lost on our authorities.

This has been the case for many years already, I know, but the spam industry got put on steroids during the lockdown once certain government agencies started demanding that people need to fill out contact tracing forms that the DOH secretary himself admitted had no centralized collection agency or program – which basically meant that it ended up in the hands of unscrupulous marketing agencies that sold the lists to even more unscrupulous businesses.

The end result was that it created a free-for-all data grabbing frenzy as many companies did not see the data privacy act as a big enough deterrent to stop stealing it from you and selling it to someone else. You just need to travel internationally now to see the difference between the amount of info we demand over here versus other countries (except China, perhaps) to see how poorly we treat data privacy over here.

Case in point, I had an RT-PCR test for an event the other day. They asked me to fill out an online form. It was over 30 pages. Yes, that’s right – 30. Three, zero. No exaggeration. It was 20 something if you’ve never had Covid before, but over 30 if you have. I swear you could probably start a small business with less paperwork. In fact, I’ve flown internationally four times this year (all during the restrictions) and I don’t think I’ve filled out 30 pages for all those trips combined. Needless to say, after I submitted the form, I started getting a fresh new influx of targeted ads. A coincidence, I’m sure…

But don’t take my word for it. Go through your own phone now and see how many job offers, cash loans or other scammy services you’re being bombarded with. If you’re anything like me, it’s the majority of messages. It has been so normalized now that even reputable companies that don’t need to do this are doing it just because they can or because their competitors are.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against ads. It’s spam I have an issue with – which is basically unsolicited offers that invade your privacy by skipping the proper channels to get their messages out.

And I’m not hating on a particular payment app here, either; I’m just using them as an example because their service is not free. There are transaction fees. So unless the company that flashes their ad on their app are paying those fees for me, they are encroaching on my privacy and cheapening the entire user experience here. Besides which, I wanna know who is in line at a store paying for something with this app and stopping when the ad pops up and saying to themselves “Hmmm, now seems like a great time to buy an investment plan with insurance” and start clicking on it? I need names.

We are living in an attention economy. Every eyeball is monetized these days. It has become so saturated that we can no longer measure the amount of individual impact an ad has, but collectively, we’ve seen it creating levels of anxiety and depression that we’ve never seen before. It really needs to stop or at least be zoned accordingly. Think of it as providing open green spaces for the mind. If a city needs some to flourish, more so your mind. You cannot monetize every brain cell just like you can’t build on every square inch of land. Well you can, but we’ve all seen what happens to places like that. You need to provide space to recharge and receive unsponsored, organic information.

Bottom line is we need stricter enforcement of the data privacy act and mandatory registration for SIM cards as a minimum starting point. Because while it may seem trivial or harmless at first, the effects have all started to ad up. Pun intended.