Spam Expected to Outnumber Non-Spam

More than 30 percent of all email is unsolicited and MessageLabs predicts that spam will continue its exponential growth into 2003, surpassing the amount of non-spam email by around July. However, despite the widespread contention that spam has reached a critical level on corporate email systems, the Pew American Life Project released a survey finding workers encounter little spam while on the job.

The survey results, culled from a telephone survey of nearly 2,500 Internet users, are used by Pew to argue that spam, while a growing problem for personal email accounts, has not had a pervasive effect on the workplace.

Fifty-three percent of work emailers told Pew that nearly all of their incoming mail was work-related, and 71 percent said “a little” of the email they receive at work is spam. The research found nearly 60 percent of respondents receive fewer than 10 email messages per day and half said “none” of their work e-email was spam.

“A small number of the truly inundated work emailers have created most of the buzz about email overload,” the report said.

Yet when queried about how much time was devoted to spam at work and home combined, a survey of 1,000 consumers conducted for Symantec Corp. by InsightExpress revealed that 65 percent spent more than 10 minutes each day dealing with spam, and 24 percent reported dealing with it for more than 20 minutes per day.

E-mail marketers fret that spam will increasingly drown out legitimate marketing messages, as users become frustrated by clutter and over-aggressive spam filters throw out the good with the bad. A survey earlier this year by Rick Bruner’s Executive Summary and email marketer Quris found email users reporting spam taking up 28 percent of their in-boxes, including their home and work accounts.

Pew attributes much of the deluge of spam to users’ home accounts, particularly Hotmail, MSN, Yahoo and AOL. Nearly all of those email providers have taken steps to staunch the flow of spam with improved filters and user-generated blacklists.

Pew said its poll results back up its contention that corporations are doing a fair job of fighting spam, installing email filters and educating employees about spam-prevention techniques, including not verifying their email addresses by opening spam and never posting their corporate email addresses online. For spammers, an email provider such as Hotmail, with tens of millions of users, remains the main target over corporate accounts.

Other key findings from the Symantec survey include:

  • 37 percent of respondents receive more than 100 spam emails each week at home and work
  • 63 percent receive more than 50 spam messages weekly at home and work
  • 69 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that spam is generally harmful to email users. MessageLabs reports one virus interception in every 212 emails in 2002 – up from one out of 380 in 2001 – with “Klez” as the number one virus of 2002, with five million copies captured.
  • 77 percent of respondents with children under the age of 18 noted that they are concerned or very concerned about their children reading spam
  • 38 percent indicated that pornographic or otherwise inappropriate spam content was considered their primary concern. The “Nigerian Scam” alone has spread worldwide, and MessageLabs expects the operation to gross over two billion dollars in 2003, becoming the second largest industry in the country, if email users continue to be deceived.
  • 84 percent agreed or strongly agreed that spam places a burden on their individual time
  • 36 percent responded that it takes too much time to delete or unsubscribe to spam messages
  • 42 percent of respondents didn’t use a spam filter
  • 18 percent of respondents indicated that spam takes up limited computer and email resources

“At best, spam is annoying; at worst, it’s objectionable and a real threat to productivity and resources,” said Steve Cullen, senior vice president, Consumer and Client Product Delivery at Symantec. “As consumers face a steady increase in spam emails every day, it is clear that unsolicited email is a problem that must be addressed if users are to continue to enjoy the benefits of online computing.”

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