June 3, 2004

SPIM, SPAM, SPUM

A lot has happened in the world of spam since we issued our major report in October, 2003, called Spam: How it is hurting email and degrading life on the Internet. Most notably, the Congress passed the first ever federal anti-spam legislation, the CAN-SPAM Act, which took effect on Jan 1, 2004. A number of legal cases have been filed against high-profile spammers. The private sector continues to imagine new concepts and push out new programs to deflect or filter out spam. Industry, government, the legal community, and academia have initiated coordinated, cooperative efforts against spam.

But spam still swamps our inboxes. We updated some of our own survey findings in a March, 2004, data memo called The CAN-SPAM Act has not helped most email users so far. We noted that since the CAN-SPAM Act took effect, just over half of Emailers reported their spam volumes had remained the same, and among the rest, slightly more reported an increase in spam volumes than a decline. We’ll continue to monitor the impact of various anti-spam efforts by tracking spam volumes.

The spam report attracted an unusually large amount of interest. Although our survey findings confirmed we had tapped a common raw nerve, we were surprised by people’s passion to vent against spam. Everyone, it seems, loves to hate spam. The stories of the scams and the frustrations were heartfelt. One woman wrote us, “I just arrived home from a one-week vacation to find 1188 messages on my email! I used to look forward to my email, but now I dread opening it because of spam. I get so frustrated I want to cry.” And the descriptions of the lengths people go to avoid spam were creative. One Emailer describes one of our favorite spam solutions: “I have given up trying to filter out the spam, and chose to instead filter out all the ‘expected’ or known email sources into folders and leave my inbox to the spam.”