RealTime IT News

Learning to Live With Spam

Spam is as big of a nuisance as ever. In fact a recent report by IDC said spam could surpass legitimate e-mail in terms of volume this year as unsolicited e-mail continues to explode. But despite the continued annoyance, more Americans are simply getting used to it and are accepting spam as a fact of Internet life, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

One reason users are less bothered by it is they are getting better at blocking spam to begin with. The survey of 2,200 American adults found that 71 percent of email users use some kind of filters to block spam.

"People are learning how to deal with spam, and that sense of control means they’re less bothered by it," said Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at Pew in, ironically enough, an e-mailed statement to internetnews.com.

That doesn't necessarily mean people are blasé about spam. The survey also found that 55 percent of email users say they have lost trust in email because of spam. But they aren't ceasing their use of it. E-mail is in decline not because of spam but because of a generational shift.

"Even the FTC was worried that spam might kill the killer app. But that hasn’t come true," said Fallows. The percentage of users using e-mail less because of spam has actually dropped, from a high of 29 percent in 2004 to the current rate of 19 percent.

Pew found that there is indeed more spam hitting people; 37 percent of respondents said spam had increased in their personal email accounts over the past year, and 29 percent of work email users said spam had increased at work. Only ten percent reported less spam in the past year.

But they all seem to simply accept it. When Pew first began tracking users' attitudes toward spam in June 2003, 25 percent said it was a big problem. Now, only 18 percent say it's a problem. Even more unusual? College educated respondents were more bothered than non-college educated respondents.

Two-thirds of college graduate Internet users are annoyed by spam, compared with 45 percent of those with less education. Fallows thinks that's because those with degrees tend to work desk jobs and thus are getting hit with spam at home and at work, while the non-degreed workers aren't as likely to be dealing with e-mail at work.

Another reason spam bothers people less is the amount of pornographic spam has dropped considerably. This year, 52 percent of respondents reported having received pornographic spam, down from 63 percent two years ago and 71 percent three years ago. Also, significantly fewer women than men say they received spam with adult content (46 percent vs. 58 percent).

At least people are learning their lesson. Pew found that 81 percent do not open attachments, the most common method for delivering viruses, spyware, Trojans and other malicious software, unless they know the attached file is safe.

What's hurting e-mail is not spam, but the post-Generation Y crowd of teens shift to instant messaging and phone texting, which has led to some horrific phone bills. Fallows thinks that may change in time.

"I believe that of course kids go for the quick and easy hits over more cumbersome e-mail. But let’s wait until those young people get into the work force and need to e-mail around Word docs and complicated attachments and more delicately-worded communications," she said.