Survey Finds Consumer Spam Frustration Rising

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Consumers are increasingly frustrated by the amount of unsolicited e-mail they receive, according to a survey released March 17, threatening to curtail explosive growth forecast for the commercial e-mail industry in the next five years.


The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that spam continues to cause U.S. consumers to trust e-mail less and use it less frequently. A majority of respondents also said spam made their online experience unpleasant. The poll defined spam as unsolicited e-mail.


The findings, from a phone survey of 1,300 Internet users completed in February, show an across-the-board rise in consumer frustration and annoyance with spam compared with a poll eight month earlier.


In a survey completed last June, 52 percent said they trusted e-mail less because of spam; in the February follow-up poll, this figure rose to 63 percent. Likewise, respondents who said they cut back on their e-mailing rose from 25 percent to 29 percent. Those who said spam made their online experience unpleasant jumped from 70 percent to 77 percent.


"This has been something many of us have been fearing," said Ray Everett-Church, chief privacy officer at anti-spam company Turntide.com and co-founder of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. "Consumer frustration with spam gets translated into overall frustration and mistrust of e-mail marketing and e-mail as a communications tool."


Pew concluded that the spam distress hinted at the limited effect of the CAN-SPAM Act, which took effect Jan. 1. More than half of respondents (58 percent) said they were unaware of the legislation.


Pew found that consumers perceived little change in how much spam they receive: 53 percent said they saw no change at either their work or personal accounts, while 24 percent saw an increase to their personal accounts and 19 percent saw more spam to their work e-mail.


The reactions mesh with industry figures. Brightmail reports that spam was 62 percent of all e-mail in February, up from 49 percent last June. Jupiter Research does not expect this to change anytime soon. It estimates consumers received, on average, 3,920 unsolicited commercial e-mails last year; in 2008, it expects consumers to receive 6,395.


Despite the frustration with e-mail marketing, 5 percent of Pew respondents said they ordered a product or service from unsolicited e-mail, down from the 7 percent who reported doing so in June's survey.


Separately, Jupiter Research reported yesterday that despite the spam threat, the e-mail marketing industry remained vibrant. The New York research firm forecast commercial e-mail spending will grow from $2.1 billion in 2003 to $6.1 billion in 2008.


Jupiter concludes that though spammers are turning off consumers, legitimate commercial e-mailers are also frustrating them by sending too many messages. The researcher expects that from 2003 to 2008 sponsored e-mail messages will grow at nearly twice the compound rate as overall message volume. Jupiter said marketers must target campaigns better to keep consumers from tuning out.


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