Business Users Clearly Define Spam

While the panelists at the Federal Trade Commission’s Spam Forum argue this week over just what, exactly, should be considered as spam (Unsolicited? Bulk? Fraud element?), a new survey shows American business e-mail users have no such quibbles: the difference between spam and desired e-mail is whether the user has previously transacted business with the sender.

The survey, conducted by political and public affairs research firm Public Opinion Strategies for SurfControl, a Web and e-mail filtering firm, shows 54 percent of respondents said that unsolicited mass e-mail from a company they’ve done business with in the past is not spam. Everything else tested in the poll was considered spam.

By wide margins, respondents classified as spam:

  • Unsolicited mass e-mail that is deceptive in its subject line and hides the sender or seeks to commit fraud (93 percent);
  • Unsolicited mass e-mail, even if it comes from legitimate or well-branded businesses (82 percent);
  • Unsolicited mass e-mail on subjects or offers that interest them (78 percent).

  • An overwhelming majority of business users (86 percent), also say they favor legislation sponsored by Senators Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) that would outlaw spam that hides the identity of the sender or misleads the recipient on the content of the e-mail.

    In addition to supporting the legislation, more than eight out of ten, 85 percent, say they would support their company using technology to control spam. Even among the small percentage of people who oppose a federal anti-spam law, 77 percent say they support using anti-spam technology at their company.

    “The definition of spam is black and white for people working in offices across the country,” said Susan Getgood a SVP at SurfControl. “E-mail from commercial strangers is spam. E-mail from companies you have done business with in the past, is not. When considering what to do, the FTC needs to take guidance from the business community, those on the front lines of the battle against spam.”

    The survey, conducted April 10-13 and April 15-17, also found 71 percent of respondents are willing to make some sort of trade-off or sacrifice to stop spam, including sacrificing the ability to learn of new products and ways to save money (32 percent); sacrificing receiving some e-mail like newsletters and other requested bulk mail (14 percent); and sacrificing some measure of privacy and the ability to send and receive e-mail anonymously (11 percent).

    A plurality of respondents (41 percent) say the volume of spam they receive at work bothers them more than the content of the spam they receive, while three out of ten (31 percent) said that the content bothers them more than the volume of spam. Among the 31 percent, nearly half (48 percent), say it is not just pornography that annoys them. They are also bothered by spam offering consumer products/services, financial services/mortgage rates, and other “offensive” material.

    “Spam is the organized crime of the Internet,” Getgood said. “Companies have to be just as organized to defeat it. The most sophisticated anti-spam technology uses multiple spam detection and classification techniques, such as a comprehensive database of spam ‘digital fingerprints’, lexical analysis like Boolean logic that analyzes content, and artificial intelligence to identify and stop spam without interfering with the delivery of legitimate business mail.”

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