At AOL, a Drop in Spam

AOL has seen a sharp decline in the amount of spam received and reported by members, the Time Warner unit said today.

The company released figures showing a 75 percent drop in the spam reported by subscribers, year over year, as well as a 60 percent drop in junk mail being routed to spam folders. Additionally, the company’s filters blocked 50 percent less email this year than in 2003. The total number of spam emails sent to members dropped from 2.1 billion to 1.6 billion, AOL said.

“The gap between the amount of good email AOL delivers and the bad email members might get, has never been wider than it is today on AOL,” said Carl Hutzler, AOL’s director of anti-spam operations.

AOL attributes the declines to improved security and spam blocking features, as well as the company’s well-publicized legal action against spammers. To explain the overall reduction in spam attempts, the company advanced the theory that many spammers have given up on penetrating its advanced filters.

Whether or not that’s true, the drop is certainly not attributable to a Web-wide spam decline. The first half of 2004 brought a record surfeit of unsolicited email, according to September numbers from IDC. The firm reported spam climbed to 38 percent of all email sent in North America, up from 32 percent in 2003 and 24 percent in 2002. Postini found spam accounted for 88 percent of email sent in November.

Several factors complicate numbers such as those AOL reported today. The company has no easy way to gauge how many users delete unwanted email, rather than report it as spam. Also, since the company measures considerable month-to-month variations in spam volume, identifying overall trends can be tricky. Despite those factors, AOL stands by the figures, attributing what it describes as a decisive spam decline to its symbiotic relationship with members.

“You cannot discount the size of the service as a critical factor in the success of the spam fight,” said spokesperson Nicholas Graham. “The more spam is reported, the better we get.”

AOL released AOL 9.0 Security Edition this year and sued many spammers, both on its own and through its “Anti-Spam Alliance” with Microsoft, Yahoo and Earthlink. It also implemented the SPF authentication protocol.

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