Learning to Live with Spam

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The Wash Post's Robert MacMillan reports on a Pew Internet and American Life Project poll about email spam:

The "news" out of the Pew survey is this: "Compared to a year ago, fewer e-mail users now say that spam is undermining their trust in e-mail, eroding their e-mail use or making life online unpleasant or annoying."

Specifically, the Pew poll of more than 1,400 Netheads finds:

28% of users with a personal email account say they are getting more spam than a year ago, while 22% say they are getting less.

21% of users with a work email account say they are getting more spam than a year ago, while 16% say they are getting less.

53% of email users say spam has made them less trusting of email, compared to 62% a year ago.

22% of email users say that spam has reduced their overall use of email, compared to 29% a year ago.

67% of email users say spam has made being online unpleasant or annoying, compared to 77% a year ago.

More results here.

Why don't we mind spam as much? I'd wager that part of the answer is that we've simply gotten used to it and know how to delete spam without getting into a lather about it. As or more important, ISPs and people are using more and better filters on their email, so even if the volume of spam is increasing (note: that's despite anti-spam laws), it's less likely to reach a person's inbox in a particularly annoying way. And let's not forget that the Internet in general has always been a hysterical medium, eliciting extreme reactions from every new development, for good or ill (remember all the bitching and moaning when ecommerce started to crank up?).

But the Post's MacMillan sees a darker–and even less convincing–reason why spam no longer roils cyberspace like it used to:

There could be another explanation for the Pew findings. As more people use the Internet to shop, pay bills and perform other critical aspects of daily life, they begin to worry about a far more dangerous threat—an increase in online crime.

Whole thing here.

Some Reason spam stuff here and here.

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  1. My legacy email account, which I have around still in case there’s some important place I’ve given that address, gets so much spam it’s unusable.

    My gmail account, on the other hand, gets almost no spam, and what little it gets is easily filtered out by Google.

    Or, in other words, as much as I loathe spam, I believe it’s being handled by the market. ‘You won’t get spam’ is such a huge selling point for an email provider that developing better and more intelligent filters is the best place to put R&D money.

  2. I’m sure a great deal of it is normalization. Junk mail, I imagine, was probably far more reviled in its earlier years than it is today. However, some things, like telemarketing, is annoying no matter how long its been going on.

  3. are annoying. Damn subject verb agreement. Please don’t punish me Jennifer.

  4. Death penalty for spammers.
    No appeals.

  5. What’s the big issue with potted meat? I like it.

  6. I maintain a Gmail account partly as a deliberate spam-magnet – one that I use for placing orders online, joinging mailing lists, and entering in web forms such as this one. It gets about 15-25 pieces of spam per day, which are almost always accurately filtered into the “Spam” folder.

    My home account, with Verizon, gets a varying amount of spam – sometimes as much as 5-10 per day, sometimes as little as zero. I imagine this is due to Verizon occasionally updating its in-house filtering. I generally only use this account for personal correspondence, though it was used way-back-when for a few mailing lists. I have Thunderbird set up to filter any message not from an address in my contacts list to a “Check” folder. This is a simple way to keep spam out of sight.

    My work account, which I have always guarded fiercely and only use for work correspondence unless Gmail is down protractedly during the workday, gets about 10 pieces of spam per day. I am forced to use Outlook, which offers the ability to set up Rules that filter messages. However, my organization’s in-house spam-flagging (not filtering) marks a lot of my legitimate email as spam. Most irritatingly – because I work closely with the local agricultural industry – it seems to flag any message including the word “farm” as spam. Go figure.

    Not that anyone cared.

  7. I agree literalist. Spam is getting a bad name. My favorite though, is Libby’s Potted Meat Food Product. Mmmm, partially defatted pork fatty tissue.

  8. Spam does not bother, not because I’m bothered by something else but because I filter it into a separate folder and delete everything that I don’t recognize. Simple as that.

    Now, does anyone out there know of a Nigerian who is holding a large some of money in a foreign bank account on behalf of a recently deceased heir to the throne that would be willing to cut me in on a piece if I send him a small sum of money via check to confirm my account and who will include an herbal cure for male impotence and a coupon for a male enlargement operation?

    Cuz if I could just find one of those then, man, I’d be all set.

  9. I get several megs of spam per day for various reasons. Most of it gets put into my trash folder which I just delete. I know I’ve received non-spams in that folder, but I can’t look through that many.

    The others I quickly delete on the server using pine.

    Yesterday I got some ASCII art spam. If you’ve got MT and you want to delete large amounts of spam using MySQL and you have shell access, see this.

  10. It’s probably the same process by which H&R readers have become less bothered by the Ultimate Fitness Program ads…

  11. …of course what I want to know is, who the heck is clicking on that ad and encouraging them to keep paying for it??? (with apologies to whoever is responsible for ad revenue)

  12. With the Adblock extension for Firefox, I haven’t seen UFP guy for a few weeks. Is he still humping the floor?

  13. Yep, that carpet’s gotta be totally worn away in that spot by now…

  14. Yeah, that guy humpin’ the floor used to bug the hell out of me too. I was always afraid someone looking over my shoulder would wonder what kind of weird site I was on (actually, around here a libertarian site would probably be considered worse). I had switched to Firefox a while back but didn’t realize it could block him until someone on here mentioned it (a big thanks to whoever that was, though I don’t recall now). I highly recommend Firefox, not just for the tabbed browsing (though that is great) but simply to get rid of that guy for good!

    Actually, the best part is that it leaves a little blank square in the ad bar where the picture would be which just reminds me how glad I am not to be seeing it; would that a similar function worked on some commenters: just a blank space where their comment would be. 😉

  15. But the Post’s MacMillan sees a darker–and even less convincing–reason why spam no longer roils cyberspace like it used to:

    “There could be another explanation for the Pew findings. As more people use the Internet to shop, pay bills and perform other critical aspects of daily life, they begin to worry about a far more dangerous threat — an increase in online crime.”

    I’m not sure why that’s really “less convincing”. It seems like a possibility to me. Who gives a shite about spending a couple minutes hitting “delete”, when there’s the spectre of having your life completely ruined by ID-thieving cocksuckers? Granted, I don’t think that it is as much of a factor in the acceptance of spam as, say, the proliferation of spam filters/flaggers and the simple “getting used to it” effect…but, I think it probably has had somewhat of an effect.

  16. My new ISP has a filtering system which puts most of the spam I get into the “bulk” folder. I thought that this would make things a lot easier for me–just empty the bulk folder once in a while (or even do nothing, because they automatically delete items there after a week). The only problem is that I discovered that every now and then some legitimate e-mail got into the bulk folder. So I *still* have to at least glance at the headers of all my e-mail to determine what’s spam before I delete it. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a bit annoying.

  17. I have to read almost all my spam, because for all I know, it may be that HOTT TEENZ WANT U!!!! is in fact sincere personal e-mail directed specifically toward me.

    And maybe life would be better if I had a BIGGER P3N.15!!! so I could POUND HER WITH YR LOVE HAMMER.

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