One of the most depressing forms of spam is penny stock spam. It's depressing because it clearly works. When you get spam for cheap software or cheap Viagra, you can be pretty sure that the stuff is stolen, or a racket of some kind. Penny stock spam is actually borderline legal: the fraudsters buy a whole bunch of stock in an unsuspecting, totally ordinary company, send out massive amounts of spam praising said company and urging people to invest in it, then sell their shares a few days later once the price of the stock has gone up because of all the unsuspecting saps buying shares in the company (at which point the share price collapses and the duped fools are out of pocket). Reports suggest that competent spammers can get a 6% return on their investment, which is not to be sniffed at, and more than pays for the botnet rental fees.
Similarly, there's good money to be made in buying domains and putting ads on them - because enough people will click on said ads, and enough of those will eventually buy something, that advertisers consider it worthwhile spending money on ads on web pages that people only go to by mistake. Or websites that used to be about something of interest, but have since lapsed and been bought by domain speculators.
Yesterday, I saw a news post about a guy who committed suicide by carefully and meticulously building his own guillotine (via Boing Boing, whose comments are increasingly worth reading since they hired Teresa Nielsen Hayden to moderate them). I immediately thought of cutoffmyfeet.com.
If you weren't on the Internet in 2000/2001 (I can't find an exact date for when the page first went up), this probably means nothing to you. At the time, though, it was one of the top novelty websites - and for good reason. Thankfully, the Internet Archive still has a copy of the site as it was, and if you Google for "Paul Morgan", "Freck" and similar keywords you'll find out more, but the capsule summary is: this guy had an accident involving being run over by a friend's boat on a trailer towed by a car that he managed to fall out of, ended up with horribly mangled feet, and while his insurance (this is America) would pay for basic surgery, they wouldn't pay for anything fancier, like hooking him up with special prosthetics that would let him run again (he was a huge basketball fan before the accident).
Now, if this had happened a couple of years before or after 2000/2001, all that probably would have happened would have been a few sympathetic stories on, respectively, Usenet or left-wing blogs. It being 2000 (or 2001), though, Freck hatched the following plan:
- There's two things the insurance won't cover: 1) buying new prosthetics, and 2) paying for the surgery to fit them.
- Except that they'll pay for the surgery if it's an emergency.
- So if I can find a way of raising money for the prosthetics, and then fashion an emergency that requires them to be attached, I've gamed the system. Yay!
- A guillotine sounds like a decent enough cause of emergency. I reckon I can build one of those.
- Blood loss will be a problem, so I'll have a GP on site when I cut off my feet.
- I still need to raise the money to buy the prosthetics, though. I know! I'll broadcast the event on the Internet!
This was a year or two after Victoria's Secret had advertised a massive webcast during the Superbowl (their servers promptly melted down under the load), and everyone thought streaming video was the future. (Youtube was a good 4 or 5 years away.) The site got a great deal of attention, mostly along the lines of "will anyone actually pay up money to watch something like this?" and "he does know that he'll die from blood loss almost immediately, yes?".
Freck had trouble raising money. He made an initial fund-raising attempt by selling off access to video of him building the guillotine, and some people bought in, but not enough for it to be worth it. The whole thing fizzled out, Internet afficionados found something else to be interested in (this was the days where you could be an Internet fan, not just someone bored at work), and the world forgot about cutoffmyfeet.com guy.
cutoffmyfeet.com is now a pay-per-click site. The home page is a collection of links to mundane ('Personal Ads', 'Ringtones', 'Cell Phone', 'Online Game'), sexual ('Wet Panties', 'Nudes', 'Teen Spanking', 'Free Dating Service', 'Women', 'Hot Lingerie', 'Plumpers', 'Fist', 'Big League Facials', 'Black Dating') and vaguely appropriate sites ('Amputation', 'Guillotine', 'Paul Freck'). Except that all of the links go to similar PPC sites, or piss-poor encyclopedia or reference sites.
cutoffmyfeet.com was a daft idea, one that could have been tragic if people had been ghoulish enough to sign up for the depeditation Internet broadcast. It deserves to be remembered, its website either unavailable or pointing to a simple memorial page. Instead, it's been hijacked by borderline scammers out to make a quick buck.