Spam Annoyance on the Rise

With most studies painting spam as imminently reaching epidemic proportions, a new poll by Harris Interactive shows Web surfers increasingly frustrated by the deluge of unsolicited commercial email hitting their in-boxes.

The Harris Poll, which questioned over 2,200 U.S. adults about how annoying they found spam, discovered the vast majority thinks spamming should be made illegal.

The poll found 80 percent of respondents found spam “very annoying” — a sharp increase from the 49 percent who responded that way two and a half years ago. Almost the same amount, 74 percent, thought mass spamming should be made illegal.

Not surprisingly, the spam messages found the most annoying were those related to pornography (91 percent), followed by mortgage and loan offers (79 percent), and investments (68 percent) and real estate (61 percent).

Harris noted the broad support for taking legal action to stop spamming, with between 70 percent and 80 percent support from respondents in all age groups, income brackets, sexes, races and political parties.

While one recent study questioned claims that spam is a big problem for corporate email systems, the majority of reports on spam have painted a depressing picture. According to Jupiter Research, whose parent company owns this site, the average email user should expect to receive nearly 3,900 junk email messages per day in 2007. BrightMail, a maker of anti-spam software, estimated that 40 percent of all email traffic in November was spam.

Thus far, the battle against spam has mostly been fought by users, who can use spam filters to try to block unwanted emails. Lately, however, as the chorus against spam has grown louder, Internet service providers have come out with stronger server-side protections for customers. MSN, which operates spammers’ favorite target, Hotmail, employed Brightmail in September to protect its 110 million members against the spam deluge. Both AOL and MSN have unveiled easier-to-use mail controls, with stronger spam-fighting capabilities, in the latest versions of their ISP software.

Efforts to make spam illegal nationwide have had a spotty record, since no federal legislation against spam has passed Congress. In an effort to employ existing law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), its Canadian counterpart and eight state law enforcement agencies launched International Netforce to crack down on spammers committing fraud. The FTC has brought a number of cases against spammers

In May, the FTC said it would extend its efforts to go after spammers using misleading subject lines or who do not honor unsubscribe requests.

At the state level, a number of anti-spam statutes have passed. This fall, Missouri moved to extend its “do not call” list to include email, in a move that direct marketers said would lump them together with spammers.

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