There was a time--2004 to be precise--when spam "only" consumed 70 percent of all e-mail. Those were the good old days. Today, as Barracuda Networks' annual spam report shows, upwards of 95 percent of all e-mail is spam. In 2001, the number was 5 percent.
We've come a long way, baby.
Ironically (or not), the United States' Can-Spam Act has done absolutely nothing (zip!) to stop the spam onslaught. It has come to the point that, as a separate Barracuda survey of 261 business professionals shows, we increasingly prefer telemarketing to e-mail spam. (I find that I'm much more willing to give my home address and phone number than my e-mail address these days. You?)
Some salient numbers from the reports:
- The Barracuda Networks study, based on an analysis of more than 1 billion daily e-mail messages sent to its more than 50,000 customers worldwide, found that 90 percent to 95 percent of all e-mail sent in 2007 was spam, increasing from an estimated 85 percent to 90 percent of e-mail in 2006;
- Barracuda Networks' poll also showed that 50 percent of users received five or fewer spam e-mails in their in-box each day. Almost 65 percent received less than 10 spam messages each day, while 13 percent were inundated with 50 or more spam e-mails daily. (That's me, unfortunately.);
- Spam is becoming more sophisticated. Barracuda Networks found "that the majority of spam e-mails in 2007 utilized identity obfuscation techniques";
- Spammers also increased the usage of attachments, such as PDF files and other file formats in 2007.
- 57 percent of respondents view spam e-mail as the worst form of junk advertising, close to double the 31 percent that cited postal junk mail. Only 12 percent chose telemarketing;
What is to be done? I suspect, as Dana Blankenhorn has written, that the spam problem is not an individual's problem. It's a community's problem and, hence, a community response is arguably the best way to resolve it. There are interesting open-source projects that leverage the power of community to identify and block spam.
But what about adding to this with a social-networking approach? I've written before about the role one's address book could play in building online trust networks, and how these same networks could be used to block spam. Following the six degrees of separation argument, I could presumably create a massive "white list" of allowable e-mail senders by linking my friends (and their friends, and their friends...) Everyone else? Blocked, until they become part of the network.
The point is that collective intelligence is likely better than an individualistic approach to combating spam. When we start pining for the "good ol' days" of junk mail and telemarketing, we clearly need to find solutions. Filtering probably isn't going to cut it.