March 17, 2004

The CAN-SPAM Act has not helped most email users so far

WASHINGTON — The distress of Internet users at spam has increased in recent months and growing numbers of Internet users are becoming disillusioned with email, despite the first national anti-spam legislation which went into effect on January 1. A new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project between February 3 and March 1, 2004 shows the following:

  • 29% of email users say they have reduced their overall use of email because of spam. That figure is an increase from last June, when we found that 25% of emailers were reporting a reduction in their email use.
  • 63% of email users said that the influx of spam made them less trusting of email in general. That figure is higher than the 52% of email users who reported declining trust in email in June.
  • 77% of emailers said the flood of spam made the act of being online unpleasant and annoying. That is an increase from the 70% of those who said in June that spam was making online experiences unpleasant and annoying.
  • 42% of email users said they were aware that Congress and the Administration had approved anti-spam legislation and that it had gone into effect at the beginning of the year. In all, 86% of email users reported some level of distress with spam. “The vast majority of email users are not getting much help yet from the nation’s first major anti-spam legislation,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project. “The law was designed to create some rules-of-the road that would make clear what was legal and what was illegal in bulk email campaigns. In the weeks since the CAN-SPAM Act went into effect on January 1, email users said they are seeing no relief and, in some cases, things are getting worse.” Among other things, the survey found that 71% of those with email accounts report that they have received pornographic spam. Still, the one area where the CAN-SPAM Act seemed to be having a somewhat clearer effect involved porn. Of those who had gotten pornography in the past, 25% say they are getting less porn spam now. That compares to 16% who say they are getting more and 56% who say they notice no change. The CAN-SPAM Act explicitly states that pornographic spam must be identified by the subject line as containing adult content in the message. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to examine the social impact of the Internet. It does not advocate policy outcomes.