Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific case study

Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific is the smallest and least populated
jurisdiction in the world, described by the first mariner to observe it as a
“ great rock rising out of the sea . . . about a thousand leagues westward
to the continent of America. ” 1
It ’ s a lonely place; when the Bounty mutineers needed a refuge from the global empire whose laws they ’ d broken,
they sailed for Pitcairn and vanished for almost two decades. As of last
year ’ s electoral rolls, there are 45 people on Pitcairn, most of them
descended from the mutineers. There is a government-subsidized satellite
Internet connection for the island ’ s houses. Per capita, Pitcairn Island is
the world ’ s number-one source of spam.
How is this possible? Can this island, whose major export industries
are handicrafts for passing ships and stamps for philatelists, host a cabal of
spammers bombarding the world with phishing messages and Viagra ads
by satellite connection? In the list of spam production per capita, Pitcairn
is followed by Niue and Tokelau, also in the South Pacific; the Principality
of Monaco, whose population overwhelmingly consists of rich expatriates
dodging taxes in the world ’ s second smallest country; and the Principality
of Andorra, a country one-fifth the size of Rhode Island. 2
Are there really
that many Catalan-speaking Andorran spam barons, accumulating stolen
credit card data by the ski slopes of the Pyrenees?
The answer is no, of course. The Polynesians who live on Niue, like
the wealthy Europeans overlooking the Mediterranean, have been unknowingly conscripted into the business of spam. Virtually all of us on the
Internet have been, on one side or another. Spam has changed laws and
communities at the points of friction where the network ’ s capacities rub
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against prior orders of work and governance. It has changed our language,
economics, and culture and exerted a profound effect on our technologies.
It has subtly — and not so subtly — deformed the shape of life online,
pulling it into new arrangements that make no more sense than the movement of the galaxies unless you allow for the mass of all the dark matter.
Only at scale, in time and in space, can we begin to bring this shape into
focus. It stretches from embryonic computer networks in the 1960s and
1970s to the global social graph of 2010, from the basements of MIT to
the cybercaf é s of Lagos, Rotterdam, and Tallinn. It encompasses points
across the network from covert chat channels to Google ’ s server farms to
“ ghost number blocks ”to anonymous banks of airport pay phones. The
spam most of us experience every day as a minor and inexplicable irritant
is like the lonely rock that sailor sighted, merely the visible peak of vast
and submerged infrastructures with much to say about the networked
The word “ spam ”means very different things to different people at
different times. It is a noun, collective and singular, as “ this spam ”can
mean “ all these messages I ’ ve received ”or “ this particular email. ”It is a
verb, as in “ they spam me, ”and an adjective, as in “ this is spammy. ”It refers
to many varieties of exploitation, malfeasance, and bad behavior, and spam
terminology has branched out into specific subdomains, from “ phishing
spam ”and “ 419 spam ”to splogs, linkfarms, floodbots, content farms. (All
of these new terms and forms will be defined and described in the following chapters.) It can easily slide into what philosophers call the “ sorites
paradox ”( “ sorites, ”appropriately for talking about spam, comes from the
Greek word for “ heap ”or “ pile ” ) to describe the linguistic confusion
between grains of sand and “ sand ”in dunes, the moment at which individual bits become a single big pile. When “ spam ”is discussed in journalism or casual conversation, the word is often meant as I have used it in
the previous paragraph, as a unified substance or a continuous event, like
smog or “ a mass or pulp, ”as Susanna Paasonen puts it. 3
But spam begins
to make sense only when we get specific and separate out the different
types, motives, actors, and groups.
Spam is not a force of nature but the product of particular populations
distributed through all the world ’ s countries: programmers, con artists, cops,
lawyers, bots and their botmasters, scientists, pill merchants, social media
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entrepreneurs, marketers, hackers, identity thieves, sysadmins, victims, pornographers, do-it-yourself vigilantes, government officials, and stock touts.
Long as it is, this list mentions only those who live there more or less
full-time, because everyone online participates in the system of spam,
however indirectly. We fund and enable it with choices we make and
trade-offs we are willing to accept because the benefits to the network
outweigh the costs. We generate areas of relevance and attention whose
discovery and exploitation is the heart of the business. We alter how spam
works and break up its current order with choices, refusals, and purchases
whose consequences we may not understand.
Those houses on Pitcairn, for example, connected to their satellite link,
do not shelter spammers hard at work. At some point, a few of the computers on Pitcairn were taken over by a piece of malware, probably arriving
as the misleading payload of a spam message that appeared to come from
a friend, taking advantage of unpatched or insecure software that can be
daunting for the user to maintain. This malware quietly commandeered
the computers without their owners ever noticing (perhaps they merely
thought that the machine, and the Internet connection, had become a
little slower) and enrolled them along with many thousands of other captured computers in homes and offices around the world into a system
called a “ botnet. ”One of the functions of the botnet is to use spare computer power and Internet connection bandwidth to send out spam messages on behalf of the botnet ’ s controller, who can thus generate hundreds
of millions of messages at effectively no cost. A desktop computer, manufactured in Shenzhen or Xiamen or Chennai, powered by a diesel generator and online through a satellite over the Tropic of Capricorn, on a
remote island in the Melvillean Pacific, has become part of a distributed
machine controlled by a remote group of botmasters in Denver or St.
Petersburg. This is a system unprecedented in human history, a vision out
of science fiction, that writes constantly repeating messages of crushing
banality: “ YOU HAVE WON!!!/Congratulations!!! You have won
£ 250,000.00POUNDS from Pepsi Company award 2010, Please provide
your Full name, Age, Sex, Country, Occupation ” ; “ Permanent En1argedPenis/She prefers your lovestick bigger ” ; “ Listen up. I must let you in on
a few insider *secrets*: Instead of waiting months to generate sales on
your site, you can start gaining the hits you want right now. ”
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This is a book about spam for anyone who wants to understand what
spam is, how it works, and what it means, from the earliest computer
networks to the present day. To understand spam means understanding
what spam is not, because — as you will see — the history of spam is always
a history of shifting definitions of what it is that spam harms and the
wrong that it produces. The history of spam is the negative shape of the
history of people gathering on computer networks, as people are the target
of spam ’ s stratagems. It is defined in opposition to the equally shifting and
vague value of “ community. ”(In fact, many of the early cases of spam
provoke groups of people on computers into the task of self-definition
and self-organization as communities.) To put this history and this book
into a single sentence: spamming is the project of leveraging information
technology to exploit existing gatherings of attention.
Attention, the scarce resource of human notice, is what makes a community on the network, and the creation of communities, the invention
of “ we ”on the Internet, is an act of attention. Communities and spam as
a whole are projects in the allocation of attention, and spam is the difference — the shear — between what we as humans are capable of evaluating
and giving our attention, and the volume of material our machines are
capable of generating and distributing when taken to their functional
extremes. 4
Over four decades of networked computing, spammers have
worked in that gulf between our human capacities and our machinic
capabilities, often by directly exploiting the same technologies and beneficial effects that enable the communities on which they predate. These two
forces build, provoke, and attack each other, and the history of one cannot
be understood without accounting for its nemesis.
This co-constitutive feedback loop between communities and spammers
is a major event in the technological drama that is the Internet and its
sister networks. This term, “ technological drama, ”is from the work of
Bryan Pfaffenberger and provides framing and context for the story to
come; it is the life of a technology, from conception and design through
adoption, adaptation, and obsolescence. 5
Why a drama? Because technologies are statements about the distribution of needful things such as power,
status, access, wealth, and privilege, for good and for ill. They are stages
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on which social and political arguments and counterarguments are made.
These arguments may be not merely irrational but also deeply cultural
and ritualistic, expressing convictions that lie well beyond the immediate
physical constraints of engineering. A technological drama is suspenseful:
it is not played out to foregone conclusions but is rife with the possibility
of subversion, takeover, and unexpected captures. It is a drama of escalation
and feedback loops, for technologies are never merely passive vessels for
holding ideas and ideologies but active things in the world that open new
possibilities and capacities. They change the communities that created them
and those that take them up.
The inciting incident that frames any technological drama and gets it
moving is the gathering of a “ design constituency, ”in Pfaffenberger ’ s
phrase. “ Constituency ”is well-chosen, because we are not simply referring
to the engineers, inventors, scientists, or designers who actually work the
lathe, draw out the blueprints, or blow the glass but to the entire body of
people who participate in the design and who stand to directly benefit
from the technology ’ s success. It is to their benefit if it sells, of course,
assuming that it is the kind of technology that can be commoditized into
widgets and not, for instance, a civil engineering project. More important,
however, is that the values embedded in the technology, intentionally or
unintentionally, become dominant. Those values reflect an arrangement of
power, control, and prestige that the design constituency would like to see
in the world, whether centralized and privatized, open and egalitarian, or
otherwise. This design constituency can include the engineers and applied
designers themselves, as well as managers and shareholders in firms, but
also politicians, experts, theorists, and elites. What is complex and important here is to be able to view technologies in two ways at once: seeing
both their physical capacities and functions, and their social and political
assertions — the moves they make in the allocation of resources and power.
We will explore computer networks and the people building and using
them with this perspective.
To get some perspective on how technological dramas work as an analytic tool, consider the case of heavier-than-air aviation. No one would
argue against the profound benefits delivered by the development of
powered flight, but to really understand the adoption and adaptation of
the technology we must account for the acts of political stake-planting
and the renegotiations of influence and control that went with it. Aviation ’ s
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roots included the powerful early idea of “ air-mindedness, ”for which
planes were not just powered, winged craft for flight but objects whose
existence was a direct expression of a rational, modern, and global mindset
that would simultaneously bring about world peace and subdue colonized
populations through bombing. 6
H. G. Wells, for instance, in his role as a
public intellectual and policy advocate, framed the work of getting from
one place to another by air as nothing less than the formation of a new
generation of intellectual pilot-samurai who would enforce a technocratic
world state. This coming class would be necessarily scientific, cosmopolitan,
and forward thinking, because they used planes. Airplanes, Le Corbusier
asserted, were “ an indictment, an accusation, a summons ”to architects and
city planners, shaming their retrograde ideas: planes were pure futurity, the
avatars of the machine age. 7
At the same moment, figures such as Gabriele
D ’ Annunzio, aviator and Fascist literary icon, and Italo Balbo, commander
of Italian North Africa and leader of the famous Century of Progress
Rome – Chicago flight, were using both the glamour and threat of flight
as an assertion of Fascism ’ s fusion of futuristic dynamism with nationalist
and archaic agendas. In the United States, flight included the democratic
vision of self-taught tinkerers hacking on planes in barns and garages and
potent assertions of military superiority and the projection of power
abroad in an abruptly smaller world. And so on. This many-layered complexity of motives, ideas, fantasies, and goals obtains across the technological domain. To understand any technical event in depth, we need to be
able to describe the full range of interests in the work of the design
The other side of the drama is the “ impact constituency, ”those whose
situation is being changed by what the design constituency produces. Neil
Postman simply called them the “ losers, ”because the rearrangement of the
world, although not necessarily one in which they lose out explicitly, is
one over which they have little initial control. Examples from Pfaffenberger ’ s research are particularly well suited for this purpose. Consider
the politics of irrigation projects in Sri Lanka, a particularly bald-faced
attempt at social engineering via technological deployment. Landed, powerful, and deeply anti-industrial local elites sought to manage the threat
of dispossessed, dissatisfied, and mobile peasants by creating a neatly controllable system of rural settlements. It was a project of getting them back
on the farm, to put it simply, where they would stay ignorant of modernity
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and easier to tax and manage, forestalling the arrival of an industrial order
in which the landholding “ brown sahibs ”stood to lose. The landholders
did the designing, and peasants felt the impact. James C. Scott ’ s work
provides several cases along these lines — of compulsory villagization, collectivization of agriculture, and high modernist urban planning — in which
the capture and redistribution of value is exerted through the production
of artifacts, places, and systems of living, always framed as “ for their own
good. ” 8
We could also speak on the far smaller and more intimate scale
of something like the Victorian household ’ s hallway bench, with its ornate
mirrors and carved hooks, for the household ’ s masters to view as they walk
by and hang their hats, and the strikingly uncomfortable bare low bench
on which the servants, messengers, and peddlers are to sit and wait.
What makes these relationships of design and impact into a drama is
the back-and-forth of technological statements and counterstatements.
After the original assertion made in the design and deployment of a technology come the responses, as the impact constituencies take things up,
change them, and accept them or fight back. The design constituency
cooks up methods and language for using technologies to arrange, distribute, or contain power, status, and wealth, and impact constituencies
have countermoves available. They can produce arguments to get their
hands on the technology, for instance, and reconstitute it, which does not
merely ameliorate the painful setbacks produced by the deployment but
actually generates a new technology that builds on the old for their own
The most obvious and canonical instance of reconstitution in a technological drama, producing a “ counterartifact ”out of the existing technology,
is the personal computer. Decades of development in computing had been
the product of the military, academia, and contractors and corporations
such as IBM. The computer was “ the government machine, ”sitting in the
ballistics lab and running models for building nuclear weapons and game
theory analyses of Cold War outcomes. 9
Computing had become virtually
synonymous with a bureaucratic, administered society in which people
were subsumed as mere components, in what Lewis Mumford termed the
“ megamachine. ”Against this concept came the first hackers and subversive
tinkerers, activists, and artists, with Ted Nelson (who coined the term
“ hypertext ” ) asserting, “ You can and must understand computers now, ”
“ countercomputers ”for the counterculture, the Homebrew Computer
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Club, the Apple I and II, and so on. 10 The drama never stops, and Fortune ’ s
wheel keeps turning, casting down and raising up and demanding new
technical statements and counterstatements.
Getting a significant new technology that is instilled with cultural values
and political goals to “ work ”is an act of assembly, of mobilizing different
groups, ideas, forces, and stakeholders together. There needs to be a flexibility to the idea, enough that you can pull heterogeneous and sometimes
even opposed powers into an alliance behind it. A technology too clearly
and narrowly defined may not be able to develop all the alliances it needs.
For the Sri Lankan irrigation project, it meant creating a complicated
alliance of ethnic and religious chauvinism, paternalistic philanthropy,
opposition to the old British colonial order (by an elite whose power
derived from the restructuring of society under the British), and so on. A
similar multiplex set of alliances could be seen in the free/libre open
source software (FOSS) movement, with businesses, individual charismatic
activists, developers, and political radicals of many stripes and very diverse
agendas trying to gather under the same banner. The epic semantic fork
between the models of open source and free software in 1998 captures
one of the moments when the ambiguities became unsustainable and had
to be reformulated. “ Movement, ”writes Christopher Kelty, “ is an awkward
word; not all participants would define their participation this way. . . .
[They] are neither corporations nor organizations nor consortia (for there
are no organizations to consort); they are neither national, sub-national,
nor international; they are not ‘ collectives ’because no membership is
required or assumed. . . . They are not an ‘ informal ’organization, because
there is no formal equivalent to mimic or annul. Nor are they quite a
crowd, for a crowd can attract participants who have no idea what the
goal of the crowd is. ” 11 This complex mesh, sharing practices and debating
ideology, is a design constituency, gathering around the technology and
trying to marshal support for different and sometimes conflicting visions
to push the project into the world.
This process of gathering and marshaling is strengthened by some
founding ambiguities. These let the designers cast a wide net and make it
easier to argue that this technological project speaks for you, too. Some of
these ambiguities are invoked of necessity. The story that a design constituency builds to draw in stakeholders from different domains to support a
new technology must draw on what Victor Turner terms “ root paradigms, ”
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the deep organizing principles of a culture and an epoch that provide a
rationale and a motive for action. Root paradigms aren ’ t exact and precise,
and they are never simply true or false. Whether they be submission to
the free market, the sanctity of human life, the vital and cleansing power
of war, or the unquestionable role of the dynastic king, root paradigms are
dynamic, messy, and enormously powerful concepts built on internal oppositions. They draw their energy and vitality from their unsettled condition
of irreconcilable struggle within which new technologies, political initiatives, and movements can be placed and contextualized. At major turning
points in the development of the Internet and spam, struggles between
constituencies were played out that drew on far older root paradigms such
as absolute freedom of speech, communal self-defense and self-organization, the technological autonomy of the capable individual, the inevitability
of destructive anarchy without governance, and the centrality of commerce
to society. The presence of these paradigms gives technological deployments the thrilling, and often later inexplicable, attraction of social movements (because that is, in fact, what they are). They draw their strength
from roots sunk deep into the earth, where the bones of prior orders and
the ruins of previous civilizations underlie the present.
These foundational ambiguities in a technology ’ s design are a crucial
resource for the impact constituencies and others to exploit. Sally Moore
describes how a reworking of the arrangements introduced by a technology is made possible, by “ exploiting the indeterminacies of the situation,
or by generating such indeterminacies . . . areas of inconsistency, contradiction, conflict, ambiguity, or open areas that are normatively indeterminate. ” 12 The indeterminate space is the place for trade-offs and concessions,
ways to get many diverse parties working together and pointed in the
general direction envisioned by the design constituency. It is also leaves
apertures and affordances in the plan for the manipulation, escapes, and
exploitation of others, from innovations and improvements to exploits and
deliberate sabotage — and thus for things like spam.
This complex indeterminacy obtained at every stage of the Internet ’ s
development. As will be discussed later in this book, there was deep uncertainty and widely varying understandings as to what this thing was to be
and how it should be used by people and by hardware and software. This
uncertainty was an enormous boon for innovators and inventors, for the
strange frontiers of network culture, and for both hackers and criminals,
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whose somewhat blurry relationship and ambiguous legal status recurs in
this history. Spam survived and prospered by operating in the edge cases
around these big ideas, in the friction between technical facts and the root
paradigms that are expressed in them where powerful concepts like trust,
anonymity, liberty, and community online were reinvented, modified, and
sometimes discarded. In following spam, we will explore how these ideas
evolved and, above all, how human attention online, and the strategies for
capturing it, changed over time.
Appropriately for a technological drama, the history of spam has three
distinct acts, which are reflected in this book ’ s three sections. The first, from
the early 1970s to 1995, begins with conversations among the architects
of the earliest computer networks, who were trying to work out acceptable
rules, mores, and enforcement tools for online communication. It closes
with the privatization of the Internet and the end of the ban on commercial
activity, the arrival of the Web, and the explosion of spam that followed
the Green Card Lottery message on Usenet in May 1994. It is a quartercentury of polylogue concerning the fate and the purpose of this astonishing thing the online population was fashioning and sharing ( “ polylogue ”
being a term from an early computer network for this new form of asynchronous and many-voiced conversation on screens). It includes a remarkable cast of postnational anarchists, baronial system administrators, visionary
protocol designers, community-building “ process queens, ”technolibertarian engineers, and a distributed mob of angry antispam activists. It is an
era of friction between concepts of communal utility, free speech, and selfgovernance, all of which were shaped in a negative way by spam. “ Spam ”
here is still used in its precommercial meaning of undesirable text, whether
repetitive, excessive, or interfering. The imminent metamorphosis of these
ideas as the values and vision of the network changed in the mid-1990s
was partially signaled and partially led by changes in spam ’ s significance
and means of production.
The next phase lasts about eight years, from 1995 to 2003, or from the
privatization of the network through the collapse of the dot-com boom
and the passage of the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States. It is about
money and the balance between law and collective social action. Those
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years are filled with the diversification of spam into a huge range of
methods and markets, following and sometimes driving innovations on the
Internet and the Web, from search engine manipulation and stock market
“ pump-and-dump ”schemes to fake password requests and “ Nigerian
prince ”fraud campaigns. During this time, a strange class of magnates and
hustlers is born, arbitraging the speed of new technological developments
against the gradual pace of projects to regulate them. Their nemeses start
here as well, with antispam projects ranging from message-filtering programs to laws and coordinated campaigns of surveillance, research, and
harassment. This period is fraught with uncertainty about the role of
nations and territorial boundaries online, the ambiguous rights and responsibilities of “ users, ”and the relationship between what algorithms can
process and what humans can read.
The most recent phase, from 2003 to the present day, turns on these
questions of algorithms and human attention. A constellation of events is
dramatically changing the economics of the spam business: the enforcement of laws, the widespread adoption of powerful spam filters, and the
creation of user-produced content tools. To keep the business profitable,
those spammers who survive the transition will develop systems of automation and distributed computing that span the globe and lead to military
applications — building nothing less than a criminal infrastructure. In turn,
antispammers will rely on sophisticated algorithms and big data to minimize the labor of catching and blocking spam messages. As spam prefigured and provoked crises in community and governance on the Internet,
it now shows us an imminent crisis of attention — in the most abject and
extreme form, as always. After four decades of interrupting conversations,
grabbing clicks, demanding replies, and muddling search results, spam has
much to teach us about the technologies that capture our attention, now
and to come.
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550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
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The price is based on these factors:
Academic level
Number of pages
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

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Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

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Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

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