Dangers of email

Posted in Email, Too Much Information at 4:59 pm by ducky

This happened back in late 1994 or early 1995, but thinking about it still makes me laugh…

Ben Johnson, a graduate student at the University of Illinois developed a wonderful, wonderful webmail tool called @ATS to help NCSA provide email support for Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser.  I was good friends with Mitch, who was in charge of Macintosh tech support for Mosaic, so I heard about it.  I could see that it would be immensely helpful answering all the email questions I got in the course of my job as www.uiuc.edu webmaster, so talked NCSA/Ben into letting me use it also.  Ben warned me that it was still quite new and under development, but I didn’t care — it made my life much easier even in that early stage.

Back in those days, there wasn’t nearly as much spam.  The very first commercial Usenet spam had only come out in January 1994.  Thus I was a little surprised to get a message to the webmaster account with an extremely pornographic subject line, and a body that was a word salad of dirty words.

I forwarded the message to Mitch, and asked in the body of the message, “Do you get messages like this frequently?”  I got back a message from Mitch saying that yes, he did sometimes get messages like to the Mosaic support email address.  Fine.  I forgot about it.

The next day, I saw Ben.  He said that he had needed to do some troubleshooting of @ATS, and had to go into my account to check something out.  I had developed a webmail system myself, so empathized.  This seemed perfectly understandable and reasonable to me.  He continued by assuring me that he was only there for a moment and emphasized vigorously that he did not look in any of the messages, only at the subject lines.

I think he was puzzled but relieved when I burst out laughing.

I did explain why Mitch sent me a message with the subject

Subject: Re: verb your feminine-noun

and let Ben know that he didn’t need to inform the higher-ups about potential sexual harassment. 🙂

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