"Our members are telling us they are getting less spam than ever on AOL, and we're seeing a substantial drop in the number of spam messages reaching AOL members' spam folders," said Carl Hutzler, director of anti-spam operations at AOL, in a statement. "That means one thing: many spammers are raising the white flag of surrender for the first time since 1999."
But some in the industry wonder whether the decrease in complaints spells a win or a loss for spammers. "This might be an indication that complainers have been worn down by the spammers," said Bill McCloskey, CEO of Emerging Interest, a digital marketing technology company. "Spam is definitely much less of a problem now than a year ago, but I would hesitate to reach any conclusions based solely on complaints registered."
This year was the first time a substantial and consistent drop was recorded since AOL began tracking the spam phenomenon in 1996, according to AOL. The company spokesman rejected the notion that the current decline is a repeat of 2003, when the rate of spam momentarily fell before a strong resurgence.
America Online has been among the more aggressive in trying to fight it. The company has been a strong advocate of state anti-spam laws, and lobbied to win passage of legislation in Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio.
The company also reported that the amount of mail being blocked by AOL's anti-spam filtering had dropped 50 percent to 1.2 billion a day. Spam reports are almost entirely sent using the "Report Spam" button on subscribers' accounts, which helps AOL constantly update and fine-tune its anti-spam filters minute-by-minute, the spokesman said.
America Online ended the third quarter with 22.7 million domestic subscribers, down 646,000 from the previous quarter. AOL's dial-up subscribers have declined for seven straight quarters.