June 18, 2007
Spam May Increase, But Has People's Tolerance as Well?

A while back, Alain Jourdier (friend of the blog) had a post over on his blog, Marketing Bytes Man, about a report on spam from Pew's Internet division.

In short, an increasing number of those polled said that they had an increase in spam for their personal and work accounts, yet fewer people seem as bothered by it in the newest round of their study.

The particular numbers are that 37 percent of users said their spam had increased in personal accounts, while 29 percent said that their work spam had increased. That's up from 28 percent for personal accounts two years ago and 21 percent for work accounts.

The full report is available here.

According to the report, 88 percent of the e-mail users they surveyed have a personal account, while 49 percent have a work account. Only 10 percent of those with a personal account reported getting less spam, while only 8 percent with a work account reported less spam. The majority in both (not surprisingly) didn't notice a major change one way or another in the past year (55 percent for work e-mail and 51 percent for personal e-mail).

The survey was among 2,200 American adults via phone. The reported margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

According to Debroah Fallows' summary of the report, "Users also report less exposure to pornographic spam, which to many people is the most offensive type of unsolicited email." She attributes this as the major reason why people seem less offended by spam than they had at one time, and also because people are more educated about spam by now. She writes:

Compared with every other type of spam -- for drugs, beauty products, financial opportunities -- porn spam elicited intense and visceral reactions from internet users, particularly women. [ . . . ] There are nuances of differences among respondents, depending on their age and education, on their veteran internet user status, and on their frequency and purpose of email use. Internet users under the age of 50 are more likely than older users to say that spam is annoying. Two-thirds of college graduate internet users are annoyed by spam, compared with 45% of those with less education. Those with accounts both work and personal accounts are more annoyed with spam than those with only one type of account.

I first wrote about spam back last December, as "the viral marketing that doesn't build goodwill." I called it "the lowest common denominator, advertising gone wrong, the thing that gives proponents of viral marketing a bad name...an abuse of power. But what about the free speech rights of the spammer?"

According to a story in The New York Times at the time I wrote this, spam had doubled worldwide in the past year, and "unsolicited junk mail now accounts for more than 9 of every 10 e-mail messages sent over the Internet."

Thinking about that information in context to the Pew study is important, in that filters may be dealing with these issues more effectively, but the amount of spam continues. Most importantly, though, is that people have become more used to dealing with spam and mentally filtering it.

I wrote about Lewis Wallace on Furthermore's piece back in December:

They've found ways to avoid bad reputations as senders by invading other people's computers to send e-mails out and have then embedded the words that would normally flag an e-mail for a spam filter by putting it in a picture instead of as text.

And for those of us who wonder what the incentive for sending this junk out, considering that we just delete it every day, often without looking at it, keep in mind this paragraph from the story: "Though the scam sounds obvious, a joint study by researchers at Purdue University and Oxford University this summer found that spam stock cons work. Enough recipients buy the stock that spammers can make a 5 percent to 6 percent return in two days, the study concluded."

Wallace writes that Bill Gates' prediction that spam would be defeated by this year has not come true. He says, "If he still believes that, I've got some tramadol (and some Propecia, and some free MP3 ringtones) he might be interested in."

But what about their rights for communication? They have messages to share. And particularly enjoyable is getting their spam messages on my BlackBerry, where the pictures are replaced by those nonsense text stories that go something like this: Mr. Mickles walks through the deleterious environment. He asked himself, "Why would Molly carp?" The clown jumps. Children scatter the seeds all over the earth. "What are you thinking?" she asked, lip quivering. "Cattle in the marketplace," he quipped.

As Alain writes, it's definitely worth thinking about for marketers and Internet researchers alike.