Amid Industry Spam Deluge, AOL Sees Drop

Despite industry reports that the spam problem has worsened, AOL said it has seen a decrease across the board in key spam indicators: the number of user complaints, the number of messages directed to users' spam folders and the volume of e-mail.

AOL noted the steady decrease began in late February, when it stepped up its spam-fighting techniques. On Feb. 20, AOL recorded 12.7 million consumer spam complaints; on March 17, complaints were down to 6.8 million. Likewise, over the same period, the amount of e-mail sent to the spam folder fell from 178 million to 113 million. Total e-mail volume sent to AOL dropped from 2.6 billion on Feb. 20 to 1.9 billion on March 17.

Weekly snapshots over the month-long period show a mostly steady decline in all three indices. AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the figures, though preliminary, pointed to the success of AOL's spam-fighting strategy.

“People have been ready to write the obituary on filtering and the obituary on the CAN-SPAM Act, and the obituary on the impact of the litigation efforts,” he said. “On all three counts, we think they're wrong and misguided.”

Graham said the daily totals were the first time AOL has seen a sustained downward trend in its spam statistics in two years. He said the biggest factors in the decrease were new spam-filtering techniques, including AOL's newly enacted policy to block its members from visiting sites AOL traces to spammers. Graham added that AOL has done a better job of identifying infected machines that spammers use to hide their identity.

“Spammers are finding out very quickly that it's not worth their time to send spam to a network that is intercepting and deleting it,” Graham said.

He also credited the high-profile lawsuits launched by AOL, EarthLink, Microsoft and Yahoo on March 10 under the new federal anti-spam law.

AOL's spam statistics stand in stark contrast to recent industry indicators that the amount of spam has not abated. Brightmail tracked spam accounting for 62 percent of e-mail in February, up from 60 percent in January. Postini, another spam-filtering company, said it has seen no decrease since the start of the year, when CAN-SPAM went into affect. On March 3, it reported its most active day ever, blocking over 103 million spam messages.

The spam-filtering statistics were further buoyed by a poll released March 17 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. It found that just 20 percent of respondents noticed a decrease in spam sent to their personal e-mail accounts.

“I think it was important to get out the word that we think and believe that enhanced filtering technology, combined with litigation and enforcement, as well as industry collaboration are starting to have real traction in the fight against spam,” Graham said.

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