Tech Industry

Study: We're getting used to the taste of spam

The Pew Internet and American Life Project turns up some surprising data about people's attitudes toward junk e-mail.

Fewer people find spam as annoying or unpleasant as they did a year ago, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Currently, 67 percent of e-mail users say that spam interferes with their online experience, compared with 77 percent a year ago.


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People are also recovering their trust in e-mail, to a degree, with 53 percent of respondents saying spam has sapped their confidence in e-mail, down from 62 percent a year ago.

The Pew Internet and American Life project has monitored e-mail users' attitudes towards spam during the last two years. Researchers with the project believe that negative reactions hit a peak about a year ago and will decline or level off over time.

"These findings suggest that at least for now, the worst-case scenario--that spam will seriously degrade or even destroy e-mail--is not happening and that users are settling into a level of discomfort with spam that is tolerable to them," the report says.

Young people between the ages of 18 and 24 years old were the least likely to be bothered by spam and also the least likely to stop using e-mail because of it, according to the report.

Despite people's increasingly blase reactions to spam, the impact of unsolicited bulk e-mail on online behavior shouldn't be discounted.

"Despite declines, spam remains a relatively major issue for Internet users," the study says. "More than half of Internet users, 52 percent, consider spam a big problem. Internet users are more negative about spam than they are about other Internet problems," such as malware.

About one-fifth of users say that spam has affected their use of e-mail in general, with 22 percent of users now using e-mail less as a direct result of unwanted bulk mail, although that is down from the 2004 figure of 29 percent.

However, users aren't doing as much to prevent the annoying e-mail ads from reaching them, it seems.

"E-mail users have changed their spam avoidance behavior very little in the last year and a half. If anything, they have been a little less likely to practice good habits," the study said, noting that a stable 6 percent of e-mail users still buy products advertised through spam.

The report was based on responses from 1,421 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Click here for a PDF of the full report.

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.