Spam seen undermining integrity of e-mail

Study finds annoyed users talking less via computer

October 24, 2003|By Barbara Rose | Barbara Rose,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A woman no longer feels safe letting her grandchildren use her computer because of the pornography that pops onto her screen.

A job seeker lost valuable leads when he changed his e-mail because his in box became inundated with spam after he posted his resume on the Internet.

A computer worker installed filtering software at home and catches one unsolicited message every two minutes.

"It sucks away my humanity, going through the spam folder," said David McNett of Austin, Texas. "I don't check routinely because it's unpleasant."

The Senate has passed legislation to authorize a no-spam registry, but a new study concluded that spam is beginning to "undermine the integrity of e-mail and degrade the online experience."

The "Can Spam" bill, approved by the Senate Wednesday by a 97-0 vote, would outlaw the shadiest techniques used by many of the Internet's most prolific e-mailers, who pump out millions of unsolicited messages daily.

Twenty-five percent of Internet users are relying less on electronic mail because of spam, according to a study released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

More than half say spam has made them less trusting of e-mail. Seventy percent say spam makes being online unpleasant.

Businesses report lost productivity and growing software and hardware costs to handle an estimated 15 billion unsolicited messages flying daily over the Internet, which make up half of all e-mail traffic. The cost to U.S. businesses is estimated at $10 billion to $87 billion annually.

The study is based on telephone interviews in June with 2,200 adults and more than 4,000 responses to a "Ban the Spam" campaign by the Telecommunications Research & Action Center, a national consumer group.

About 59 percent of the people surveyed by Pew called spam "annoying but not a big problem." But Pew's survey and Chicago Tribune interviews suggest that e-mail - a medium embraced for immediacy and convenience - is becoming less useful.

"I don't check my in box as much any more," said Sarah Skorija, marketing officer at the Rockford, Ill., public library. "I just don't want to deal with all the spam."

Meg Goodman, a senior vice president at Draft Chicago, approaches her in box as if "looking for the needles in a haystack. ... Spam is driving us back toward the telephone."

Dianne Michels, a human resources consultant in Evanston, Ill., calls people before sending important messages.

"E-mail was a way to communicate easily, but now it's turned into this, something you have a lot less trust with," she said, referring to viruses that arrive via e-mail. "You have to be on your guard."

Women are more bothered by spam than men, according to the Pew study, and the difference is most striking over pornography.

Eighty-three percent of women, compared with 68 percent of men, are bothered by spam's offensive or obscene content, the study reported.

"It takes a lot to embarrass me, and I'm very offended," said Meredith O'Connor, director of business development for World Business Chicago.

Kathleen Bullington, a Des Moines, Iowa, resident, is one of many who e-mailed the Telecommunications Research & Action Center asking for help in protecting children. "I am a grandmother who doesn't dare let my grandchildren use my computer because of the objectionable porn material that appears on it every day," she wrote.

McNett's e-mail address was stolen last year by a spammer who advertised pornography.

"I woke up one morning and I had 900 messages and more arriving every few seconds," he recalled. "I got death threats and all the things you would expect from the Internet community when people think you've invaded their privacy."

Many states have enacted anti-spam laws, and Wednesday's Senate action is part of a recent flurry of federal concern.

The Senate bill would prohibit senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from disguising their identity by using false return addresses or misleading subject lines.

The legislation also would prohibit senders from harvesting addresses off Web sites and require such e-mails to include a mechanism so that recipients can indicate they do not want future mass-mailings. The Bush administration supports the bill, but similar legislation has stalled in the House.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.