Spamford speaks

DRESHER, Pennsylvania--Call him Spamford. That's the way he likes it. But mention that name, or his real one, Sanford Wallace, in the wrong place and you'll hear about it plenty.

CNET Newsmakers
March 31, 1997, Sanford Wallace
Spamford speaks
By Janet Kornblum
Staff Writer, CNET NEWS.COM

DRESHER, Pennsylvania--Call him Spamford.

That's the way he likes it. But mention that name, or his real one, Sanford Wallace, in the wrong place and you'll hear about it plenty.

Simply put, Wallace is not a popular man on the Internet. In fact, he may be one of the most reviled. Why?

Spam. And it ain't the soft pink stuff that riles those Netizens. Wallace fills email boxes with millions of unsolicited messages every day.

You know the stuff. It arrives in your email box uninvited and unasked for. Usually it's advertising some AMAZING, NEW product. Often you curse it, you curse whomever sent it. And then most of the time, you zap it.

But sometimes you don't. And that's what Wallace is banking on. The president and founder of Cyber Promotions aims to be the primo one-stop junk email source on the Net, and he's proud of it.

He claims that Cyber Promotions is one of the few companies to have made money on the Net. To prove it, he points to the cluster of somewhat sterile rooms that form his office in the middle of a tiny business park in Dresher, a sleepy Philadelphia suburb. Cyber Promotions moved there just about a year ago, and the company's growing so fast, Wallace is getting set to move to new offices and double his staff.

On this day, seven 20-somethings wearing shorts or jeans and T-shirts perch attentively on a couch and few chairs in Wallace's office. Wallace is only 28 himself, but thanks to his stature (he's a bear of a man with Popeye forearms, slightly nerdy glasses, and a shock of dark hair on his head), his loud, authoritative voice, and his position behind his computer-cluttered desk, he looks more like a civics teacher sharing a life-altering lesson.

The day's lesson is on customer service. The negative feedback on Cyber Promotions is fairly mild, according to the staff. More often than not, the businesses that send the junk email keep calling Cyber Promotions to thank them, and specifically Wallace, for being on the front, pushing the issues in the face of hostility.

"A lot of people, smaller companies applaud what you do," says April, who like the other staff members didn't want to give out her last name.

If this were a movie, this scene would feature the bold, yet sentimental soundtrack from Star Wars. The title: Spam Wars. The implication: At least in this office, Wallace is a hero fighting for downtrodden businesses that have ended up in the middle of spam warfare for their simple, yet innocent, capitalistic desire to advertise their products on the Internet. Wallace must protect them from the evil empire of old-school Netizens.

But go take a look at some of the postings on the Internet bulletin boards, especially those that focus on abuse, and the music does not sound so sweet. Wallace has a lot of enemies and they're not shy about expressing their hatred.

They want the spam to stop; they want revenge. Recently a hacker broke into the Cyber Promotions' site, stole some password files, and posted them with an open invitation to avenge the righteous. The passwords, in the end, turned out to be basically useless, but the incident served as yet another reminder of the lengths to which Wallace's detractors are willing to go.

There are people who dedicate hours, days, even months, fighting spam and Wallace, in particular. Some have vowed to track him and shut him down, no matter where he goes, like bounty hunters chasing the prized tiger. Phrases like the "Internet Death Penalty" are tossed around as the suggested punishment to be meted out to Wallace.

That kind of language (and that's the mild stuff) just might get to someone. But Wallace?

He likes it. No, he loves it. No, he thrives on it.

In Wallace's mind, no publicity is bad publicity and all the attention means he's doing something right. In one breath he compares himself to Madonna and Howard Stern, who have launched their careers using the awesome force of public outrage. In the next, he says how much he and Bill Gates have in common, how their ambition knows no limits.

Sure, spam makes him a pariah in some circles, but it makes him a well-known pariah. And, he would argue, a successful one. He's Spamford, he says proudly, appropriating the derogatory name used to label him. He's even registered it as a domain name. Like a kid getting away with throwing spitballs, he smiles because he knows that, if nothing else, people will remember him. And that means everything.

NEWS.COM interviewed Wallace in Cyber Promotions offices where we talked about the ethics of spamming, his enemies, and his life.

NEWS.COM: Have you ever eaten Spam?
Wallace: No, I'm afraid of it.

Are you offended by being called a "spammer"?
I'm not offended at all; I have nothing to be ashamed of. I feel that Cyber Promotions' activities are perfectly acceptable and we're just a reflection of the real world except it's online.

What do you mean?
Well in the real world when a woman gives birth to a baby, the post office sells her name to a baby food company. Then she becomes inundated by baby food ads in her mailbox. We're doing nothing different. It's a multibillion dollar industry called direct postal mail.

NEXT: Love thy enemy


Age: 28

Cyber claim to infamy: Most hated man on Net, the Spam King

Idols: Howard Stern, Madonna, Bill Gates

Hobbies: Music, reading computer manuals

Separated at birth: Kevin Mitnick

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