Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Biotechnology SPAM getting worse and worse

I simply cannot hold off any longer. I posted on Biotech. SPAM and backed off after getting some really really hostile email and comments. But here we go again.

In the last few months I have gotten so much biotech SPAM and last week I did something that added to the deluge. I got my email from where I used to work (The Institute for Genomic Research, also known as TIGR) forwarded to my current account. I still am doing projects with TIGR (well, TIGR technically does not exist anymore - it is now part of the J. Craig Venter Institute also known as the JVCI) so they have been kind enough to let me keep getting my email from there at least until my projects with them are over.

The problem with this is that many biotech. companies latch onto email addresses associated with TIGR/JCVI like, well, leeches. And they never seem to let go. And if you combine my TIGR, gmail, and Davis accounts, I get a lot of unsolicited email advertisements from biotech companies. I get so much that I am now going to fight back, again, by posting names of organizations that send biotech-related such unsolicited advertisements.

Here are some of the recent scofflaws in my inbox:
  • Malaysian Genomics Resource Centre. #1 Worst offender. I have unsubscribed from their email lists 100s of times and still keep getting their inane ads for various services. It is entirely possible they do useful stuff. But by the amount of SPAM they send out, I would doubt it.
  • EZBiolab - many emails from them.
  • Beckman Coullter - I have unsubscribed from their lists before but every once in a while get back on them
  • NIH - they seem to give out email addresses way too freely.
  • Drug Discovery News - can't seem to get off their lists
  • Invitrogen (I have unsubscribed many times but keep getting new things from them).
  • Infocast Inc
  • VWR
  • qPCR news
  • Campbell Alliance
Please feel free to chime in with other examples. I am sure I am not the only person getting these.


  1. I note - people might want to check out this article in PLoS Medicine on Health-related SPAM.

  2. I received spam of this nature just this week. "Being aware of your scientific endeavours we believe that the SPRimager®II could help you advance your research."

    Aware of my scientific endeavours? I don't think so! I seem to get a lot of this when I register for conferences - so much for not passing on my personal details.

  3. I just got a good one today

    "Dear Professor Eisen

    As someone working in the chemical biology field, we believe this news about Molecular BioSystems will be of interest to you. If you have any colleagues who might be interested in this bulletin, please do forward it to them."

    Well, given that I do not work in the field of Chemical Biology this is a bit SPAMMY.

  4. I wonder if we could set up something like the following:

    1. an email address to which everyone could forward their scientispam

    2. an application which would mine the resulting email deluge for company names, and calculate some numbers

    3. a website showing those numbers -- e.g. worst offenders, spam per week from each company, etc

    That way, we could say to company reps "we will do as little business with you as possible until you quit spamming -- and we'll know whether you quit or not".

  5. I like it Bill ... but alas, that is beyond my skills or time availability.

  6. Another pain -- if you are a study section reviewer, to get paid you become a government contractor -- and immediately get passed on to various government contractor spam lists.

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  8. If I want a quote for a piece of equipment or reagent, then I often have to give them my email address. Sometimes I'm asked the name of my institution or my PI's name. I guess I could pick up the phone, but I hate doing that. I always just think of the spam emails that come to me as the price I pay for giving in to my "telephobia." I've never given out my PI's email address, but maybe they figure that out. Honestly, I hadn't thought about that before.

    Sometimes, I actually get useful information from them (sales, reminders about products I might have forgotten about, info about new products or technologies, invitations to webinars or trade shows, etc.) I might learn that there's a kit out there that does something that I'm about to spend six months developing a protocol to do. I guess I see biotech spam emails as different sorts of beasts than the penis enlargement ones. You PIs understandably might not appreciate them, but you may have indirectly benefited from them if your lab techs or students get them, too.

  9. all those positive uses are great

    the problem comes when they make it difficult or impossible to unsubscribe

    the it is spam, whether the offer something useful or not

  10. Yes, of course you should be able to unsubscribe.

  11. Of course, even if they allow you to unsubscribe it is still annoying. And I still consider it SPAM-like if they repeatedly send you ads.

    And a new SPAM in the last few days


  12. My favorite spam comes from beltway bandits proposing to teach me how to defraud.... er, I mean obtain lucrative contracts from the government. It all started when I became a government contractor as a side-effect of reviewing grants for the NIH.

  13. I respond to any bio-spam with a form reply that warns that any further spam will cause blacklisting across our whole site (the Salk Institute) and possible legal action under CAN-SPAM. Most large companies send a very quick apology, and we've blacklisted several semi-reputable companies that spammed repeatedly (no lawsuits yet). If a reasonable number of scientists do this on a regular basis, I think the word will get out that bio-spam is just not worth it.

  14. Peter

    I am trying your approach. I just got an unsolicted SPAM email from Lipomed. I have written to them

    "Please cease and desist sending me any advertisements by email. This is an invasion of my privacy and a violation of many US laws. I have never subscribed to your email and therefore do not believe I should need to click on a "manage your subscriptions" link. If you do not cease and desist I will consider legal action and will recommend a boycott of your company to all my colleagues."

    Lets see what they do.

    Also - Peter - do you have a template you recommend using?

  15. I'm developing a bit of an inferiority all get such exotic solicitations. I get a bit of biotech spam at my Duke address but on the blog it's nothing but a constant parade of anti-depressants and male enhancement products.

  16. Well, I had my first real success here. One of the offenders has written me vowing to never spam again and asking if I can remove their name from the blog. I am going to remove their name at least temporarily but will go after them with a vengeance if they return to SPAM.

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  20. Wow ... thanks Michael. I too have tried to get of the dreaded qPCR news and failed. Maybe I will try this option.

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  22. At the demand of the qPCR News editor, I have replaced in my post below explicit contact details with links to his professional contact pages. Most promising, after many mail exchanges, the editor has written today:
    "I learned from your complains, which are partially right. Therefore I changed the subscribe and unsubscribe procedure to my address database to make both acts more secure for both sides - subscribers and me. As I mentioned before - I do not want to insult people by sending unsolicited e-mails."
    I resent the "partially", and the question of how some of us got into the database in the first place is still unanswered, but it definitly shows the issue is recognized as well as good will to resolve it.

    It's been a whole year since I first tried to unsubscribe from the "qPCR News" email, and at last today I can share with you an effective protocol to free oneself from this chronic UBE (unsolicited bulk email)!

    Being unsolicited (I have never knowingly subscribed to this newsletter), indiscriminate (I have never done qPCR, nor have I ever had any intention of doing qPCR) and extremely difficult to get rid of, the "qPCR News" is a prime "biotechnology spam" example. My previous eight attempts to unsubscribe using the links provided at the bottom of the Newsletter never succeeded at eliminating this spam. So I even wrote in plain English directly to the editor, twice. On the second occasion, I threatened to take legal action. Although the emails were delivered, I didn't even get as much as a reply. The dreaded "qPCR News" would carry on appearing in my inbox. But the June 2008 "qPCR News" edition would be the last.

    On 30th June 2008, I changed tactics:

    - I referred the mail as spam to the official French national spam database (Signal Spam)
    - I wrote and posted a (real paper) formal complaint to the French national authority responsible for the defense of citizen's right to access and rectify any database records that concerns them: Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL)
    - I faxed a copy of the formal complaint to the "qPCR News" editor (contact details and
    also here)
    - I also faxed a copy of the formal complaint to the editor's employer, the Technische Universität München

    The day after the faxes were sent, I finally got by email the long overdue assurance from the qPCR News editor that my email addresses would be removed from their databanks. He apologized for the problems he caused, but then accused me of being responsible for the failure of the unsubscribe attempts! Each one of my ten unsubscribe emails, alleged to have had a missing "-" in my email address, are in fact correct, never returned an error message and have been sent to the CNIL as evidence.

    The take home message is that if you are having difficulty unsubscribing from "qPCR News", faxing the editor's employer appears to be an effective method of having your right for privacy respected.

    I also wrote to all the "qPCR News" commercial sponsors (and there are many indeed):

    Dear Sir, Dear Madam,

    The "qPCR News" email of which your company is a sponsor is sent every month to many scientists worldwide[1].

    This newsletter is mass emailed and, at least in some cases, is unsolicited, indiscriminate and next to impossible to unsubscribe from[2]: it is therefore considered by some scientists as "biotech spam" (see the UC Davis Professor Jonathan Eisen's web page[3]). The impossibility to unsubscribe breaches many national legislations, including in France the "loi n° 2004-801 du 6 août 2004 relative à la protection des personnes physiques à l'égard des traitements de données à caractère personnel et modifiant la loi n° 78-17 du 6 janvier 1978 relative à l'informatique, aux fichiers et aux libertés".

    As such, on 1st July 2008 I have placed a formal legal complaint (document attached) against this newsletter to the French National authority protecting citizen's right for privacy (Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, CNIL).

    If it is not part of your company's ethics to sponsor unsolicited bulk email, may I suggest you ask the "qPCR News" editor[4] to:
    - make sure his email database only contains addresses of willing recipients
    - put in place an effective unsubscription protocol

    I thank you in advance for your precious help to preserve scientist's professional privacy, a prerequisite for biotechnology communication to remain effective.

    Yours sincerely,
    Pascal Hingamp

    The feedback I am getting is that this is a very effective way of helping the "qPCR News" editor understand the risks involved in indiscriminate unsolicited bulk email...

    Best of luck!
    Pascal Hingamp

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  24. Thanks for the update. I thiknk you have gone above and beyond the call of duty. I too have tried to unsubscribe from qPCR news but I refuse to go to your lengths to do it. I continue to try to do it the normal way - by email.

    I received another qPCR news June 28. My tactic is to list it in gmail as SPAM and hope that others do the same.

    So this Michael W. Pfaffl who publishes the qPCR news is a scoundrel in my opinion.

  25. I note Pfaffl has sent me an email sort of apologizing for technical problems in unsubscribing people and simultaneously threatening me with legal action for calling him a scoundrel and for posting his contact information. I stand by the "scoundrel" comment as dozens of people have confirmed to me that they are annoyed by the qPCR news emails. If you want his contact information, which I have removed, a simple google search will pull it up.


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