Computer Crime Research Center


Spam losing inbox battle, polls suggest

Date: March 14, 2005
By: Eric Beauchesne

Unwanted ads start to decline; Canadians reclaim their e-mail

Canadians are finally winning the fight against e-mail spam, in part, simply by ignoring it, says a new report.

The amount of unsolicited e-mails, which had been doubling every year, declined in 2004 for the first time in four years, according to survey results released yesterday by pollster Ipsos-Reid.

In the final quarter of last year, Canadians received an average of 177 e-mails per week. Of those 87, or nearly half, were spam, according to the survey. Still far from spam-free, but an improvement over 2003, when nearly 70 per cent of the weekly average of 197 e-mails were spam.

"Prior to this, spam volumes had been doubling every year," the report said, noting that in 2001, there were only an average of 30 spam messages a week.

The pollster credits tougher anti-pornography laws, stricter guidelines governing electronic marketers, increased use of spam filters and a growing unwillingness by Canadians to open junk e-mails.

"It's become more difficult for spammers," Ipsos-Reid's Steve Mossop said in an interview from Vancouver.

"The return on investment is not what it used to be for spammers."

The report is based on results of two separate surveys in January, including an online survey of 1,000 web users and a further 1,000 telephone interviews. The results are considered to an accurate reflection of the views of online users, within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

New laws, such as Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, and the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act in the U.S., have forced marketers to re-evaluate their practices and adhere to tougher guidelines, according to the report. They have also elevated awareness of the problems associated with spam.

The proportion of online Canadians using spam filters has also jumped to 77 per cent from 41 per cent two years ago and the filters are much more effective in blocking spam, according to the report.

"Finally, Canadians are becoming less willing to open spam."

Only 36 per cent say they open any spam on a given week compared to 40 per cent in 2002, thus decreasing the effectiveness of spam as a marketing tool, it noted.

"Canadians are starting to regain control of their e-mail in-boxes," said Mr. Mossop. "At this point in time last year, Canadians were frustrated with e-mail overload and clutter, and were starting to turn off their mailboxes and become increasingly skeptical towards e-mail.

But e-commerce expert Rick Broadhead, who has written 30 books about the Internet, disagrees.

"Spam has increased in volume, not decreased," he said.

It's also increasing in scope to include spam on voice mail and on instant messaging, a trend called "spimming."

A U.S. phone study of 2,201 adults in January and February found that a third of those who used instant messaging reported getting unsolicited ads during real-time on-line conversations.

Last month, the London-based anti-spam organization the Spamhaus Project warned that spammers are unleashing even more spam by routing it through Internet service providers instead of from individual machines. Some spam can be blocked if it comes from a "blacklist" of known spamming computers. Routing it through service providers ducks that roadblock.

It's believed spam costs businesses billions in lost productivity as workers waste time deleting spam or try to figure out which of the deluge of messages are legitimate.
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