More Unwanted Messages Since CAN-SPAM

Anti-spam legislation, the CAN-SPAM Act, hasn’t made a dent in the volumes of unsolicited messages, according to a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In fact, nearly one-quarter of the respondents reported a greater influx of spam in their personal e-mail accounts since Jan. 1, 2004, when the legislation went into effect.

Of the nearly 1,400 Internet users that were surveyed by phone between Feb. 3 and March 1, 2004, 24 percent reported more spam in their personal e-mail accounts, and 19 percent saw their spam volume increase in their work-related accounts. More than half (53 percent) haven’t noticed a change in either work or home e-mail accounts.

The law, enacted to regulate and legitimize e-mail marketers, has apparently reduced the type of spam that many Internet users find the most offensive — porn. Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that 71 percent of their survey respondents received pornographic spam, but 25 percent say they are getting less now than they did before the law went into effect. Just 16 percent said they have more porn messages, while 56 percent didn’t not notice any change in the volume.

Pew Internet & American Life Project Director Lee Rainie says that he thinks the law is having some effect, but there are other factors involved with the volume of porn spam. “First, the law itself has some very tough penalties against porn purveyors and there might be some deterrent effect to that. Second, it might be the case that porn is easier for filters to spot and quarantine. And third, I think adult content creators, at least the most legitimate ones, must have a sense of how repulsed people are (especially women and parents) when they get porn spam.”

Rainie suspects that spammers only want to interact with customers who are willing to buy what they are selling, and they want to avoid the Internet users that are becoming increasingly angered by the offensive e-mail. “…I think some adult entertainment companies have started to comply with the provisions of the new law,” he said, “and that makes it easier for e-mail users to avoid seeing images they have no desire to see. ”

Spam, measured by Brightmail at 62 percent of the volume of e-mail in February 2004, is having a detrimental effect on usage, according to the Pew report. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of e-mail users said that spam has made their online experience unpleasant and annoying — up from 70 percent of respondents in a June 2003 survey. Furthermore, 29 percent of the participants in the most recent Pew survey indicated that spam has caused them to reduce their e-mail usage — up from one-quarter in June.

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