Americans Learning to Live With Spam Agita

As the fight to win the war on spam escalates in the courts and even Congress, many Americans are turning a blind eye toward the
deluge of unsolicited e-mails always offering better sex or lower mortgage rates, according to a new study.

The report, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said 53 percent of adult e-mail users in the United States trust e-mail less because of spam, down from 62 percent a year ago.

However, familiarity may be breeding acceptance; Americans polled in the survey said they are coming to terms with spam much the way they have with death and taxes — you just can’t avoid it. You might say numb-to-spam is the new coping tool.

“We see a little more spam with a little less distress since Congress tried to stem the flow of unsolicited email with the CAN-SPAM Act in January 2004,” Deborah Fallows, Senior Research Fellow at the Pew Internet Project, said. “Maybe people are getting used to spam, or becoming resigned to it, just like air pollution and crowded roads.”

These efforts have left many Internet users believing the threat from unsolicited messages is diminishing for them, the report suggests.

Spam is still a major concern for internet users with more than half polled, or 52 percent, calling it a “big problem.” There is also more negative feelings about spam than there are about other Internet issues.

The survey, taking from a sample of 1,400 e-mail users, also found people were getting less porn spam. Nearly three-fourths of email users, or 63 percent, now say they have received porn spam.

That number is down 8 percent from a year ago. Of those, 29 percent say they are now getting less porn spam, compared to 16 percent who said they are getting more.

Pew also tracked phishing occurrences for the first time in these results. Pew said 35 percent of users reported receiving these attacks, which try to trick people into handing over sensitive information. But only 2 percent reported falling for the ruse.

The definition of spam is also changing, judging by the results. More e-mail users reacted positively to the use of email in political campaigns over the past year. In June, 2003, 74 percent of e-mail users considered “unsolicited e-mail from a political or advocacy group” to be spam. In January 2005 that number had fallen to 66 percent.

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