Users More Tolerant of Spam, But Say it Degrades Integrity of eMail

Users More Tolerant of Spam, But Say it Degrades Integrity of eMail

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project February-March 2007, written by Senior Research Fellow, Deborah Fallows,  spam continues to plague the internet as more Americans than ever say they are getting more spam than in the past, but are less bothered by it than before. Users have become more sophisticated, and 71% use filters offered by their email provider or employer to block spam. Users also report less exposure to pornographic spam. Spam has not become a significant deterrent to the use of email, as some observers speculated it might when unsolicited email first began flooding users' inboxes several years ago. But it continues to degrade the integrity of email. Some 55% of email users say they have lost trust in email because of spam.

Spam by the Numbers (88% of email users have a personal account; 49% of email users have a work account.)


% of users 

Getting more spam in personal email account


Getting less spam in personal email account


Have not noticed a change


Getting more spam in work email account


Getting less spam in work email account


Have not noticed a change


Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project February-March 2007 Survey

Some of the highlights of the survey conducted between February 15 and March 7, 2007, include the following information:

In June 2003, when internet users were first asked how spam affected their life on the internet, 25% of users said spam was a big problem for them. Three and a half years later, the percentage of users who say spam is a big problem has dropped to 18%. On the positive side, the percentage of users who say spam is not at all a problem has risen from 16% to 28%. And the portion of email users who take the middle ground, describing spam as an annoyance but not a big problem, hovers at about half (51%) down from 57% in 2003.

Porn spam elicited intense and visceral reactions from internet users, particularly women. People reported that the most bothersome thing about spam was exposure to content that was offensive or obscene in nature. And, three times more respondents reported that porn spam bothered them more than any other kind of spam. Results from this survey, however,  show a steady and dramatic reduction in the porn spam. Now, 52% of email users report having received pornographic spam, down from 63% two years ago and 71% three years ago.

Internet users under the age of 50 are more likely than older users to say that spam is annoying. Two-thirds of college graduate internet users are annoyed by spam, compared with 45% of those with less education. Those with accounts both work and personal accounts are more annoyed with spam than those with only one type of account.

Nuanced Reactions to Spam (% of respondents)

Demographic Group

Spam is a big problem

Spam is annoying

Spam is not a problem at all

All internet users




Internet users age 18-49




 Internet users age 50+




 Internet users with a college degree




Internet users with less education




 Internet users with 6+ years online




Internet users w/less than 6 years online




Daily internet users




Less-frequent internet users




Internet users with both work and personal email accounts




Internet users with only a personal email account




Internet users with only a work email account




Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project February-March 2007

Among current email users:

  • 68% of emailers, say they almost never unintentionally open an email message without realizing it was spam
  • 27%, say they do that once in a while
  • 5% say they do it often
  • 51% email users say they check their spam folders at least once in a while
  • 46% say they check it almost never or not at all. In addition
  • 23%, say they have clicked on a link within a spam message in order to get more information, down from 33% in 2003
  • 4% of email users admitted to ordering a product or service from an unsolicited email. This number was 7% in 2003, 5% in 2004, and 6% in 2005

In both February of 2003 and 2007, 91% of internet users said they were using email. In this survey, 19% of users said spam has reduced their overall user of email, down from 22% in 2005, 29% in 2004, and 25% in 2003.

In 2003, over half of email users, 52%, said that spam has made them less trusting of email in general. In 2004, 62% of email users said spam made them less trusting of email, 53% agreed in 2005, and 55% agree now.

And, email users report no change in the volume of another troubling form of spam, phishing, which is an email designed to trick someone into revealing personal financial information.

For the complete report in PDF format, please visit PEW here.
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