I know this isn't strictly computer-related, but I think it's a problem that many of us face, and so I thought this would be the better place to ask it.

I'm just wondering about how spam is eerily accurate when it comes to the subject matter of the spam emails. It seems like whenever I find something new to obsess about (be it a program or whatever), I seem to always get spam emails related to that very subject. For example, at one point I was very excited because I was getting the Adobe Creative Suite, and all of a sudden I started getting lots of spam emails advertising Adobe products. How did the spammers find this out? Lately, I've been doing a lot of college searching (I'm a senior in high school), and again, I've been getting spam emails pretending to be college invites. It's not a big deal, because I've never had a spam email fall into my inbox after switching to Gmail, but it's just kind of creepy because it seems like they know my every move.

How do they know what I'm up to? And I guess the more important question: How can I keep spammers from tracking me?


5 Answers 5


They get them from sites that actually sell their users mail adresses, they get them from forums, from Email accounts that have been hacked. It's not that hard, unfortunately.

Maybe they found your email on a forum where you were talking about Adobe products. Or maybe they were lucky; they send billions of emails, regarding anything they can sell. They were lucky by sending you spam about something you were actually interested in.

  • +1 for the forum theory, that's definitely a possibility. I used to participate in a lot of forums and this definitely could have happened. Aug 28, 2009 at 20:18
  • It certainly used to be the case that they used to harvest usenet posts for addresses so it seems quite likely they would now use forums although these tend to make your email address less visisble.
    – Col
    Aug 28, 2009 at 21:22
  • I have 2 email addresses that I use; both of them are gmail accounts. I use one of them only with my close friends and for my iTunes account. I never receive spam there; the reason is simple: the spammers have never seen my email address anywhere, I've never registered on any site with it and it's not on mailing lists.
    – alex
    Aug 29, 2009 at 9:36
  • @alex: I used to do that, but ever since I switched to Gmail I have not had a single spam email get into my inbox. It's not a problem anymore, I was just curious. Dec 1, 2009 at 5:56

Privacy is Dead - Get over it

This speech by privacy expert Steven Rambam gives deep insight into the possibilities of privacy invasion through tools that are freely available on the Internet. He shows how companies like Google or even Domino’s Pizza are using data-mining to get a profile of their customers.

This video is quite long - around 3 hours - but if you care about your privacy, it is worth every minute!

  • Wow, that was long but extremely eye-opening. Thanks for that. Aug 28, 2009 at 23:20
  • Private video ? Nov 19, 2012 at 1:00

The #1 place they get them from is each other. They sell them back and forth. Any valid email addresses are pure gold.

There's been a theory for some time now that one day the spam market will collapse once the email addresses are less useful when people stop buying stuff from spam but it hasn't happened yet.


I believe the explanation is simply attentional bias: When you're interested in Adobe Creative Suite, you tend to especially notice spam that's about it. Chances are you've received similar spam about Adobe products earlier as well, but just deleted them without taking any notice.

Happens to the best of us. :)

  • No, I mean I started ONLY getting spam about Adobe. Like, 90% of it was about Adobe products. I may have received some before then, but not that much, I can guarantee it. It's definitely not a psychological thing. Aug 28, 2009 at 21:20
  • Ok. Might still be a coincidence, though. But in the case they actually did target you with Adobe product ads, the forum theory posted here does sound plausible. Aug 28, 2009 at 22:23

Brute force is a large base. Also infected computers send out spam aswell.

  • Right, but how do they know what I'm up to? I understand how they get users' email addresses, I just don't understand how spam emails can be so relevant. Aug 28, 2009 at 19:29
  • 4
    Maybe you only start noticing relevant posts when they become, er, relevant to you? :-) Aug 28, 2009 at 19:54
  • 1
    @musicfreak: Either a) your Bayesian filtering letting them through (i.e., if you're a mortgage broker then mortgage emails will make it through), or b) your email is musicfreak@whatever.com and they're taking a wildassed guess that you're into music.
    – Tom Kidd
    Aug 28, 2009 at 19:55
  • @schnapple: I don't have any custom filters, if that's what you mean. And my email is generic (it's just my name and a number), it doesn't hint at anything about me. Aug 28, 2009 at 21:22

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