12% of email recipients respond to spam


Twitter and some of the other delivery blogs are all abuzz today talking about the consumer survey released by MAAWG (pdf link, large file) looking at end user knowledge and awareness of email security practices.
The survey has a lot of good data and I strongly encourage people to look at the full report. There are a couple of results that are generating most of the buzz, including the fact that nearly half of the respondents have clicked on a link or replied to a spam email. Additionally, 17% of respondents said they made a mistake when they clicked on the link.
The magic statistic, though, is that 12% of the respondents said that they responded to spam because they were interested in the products or services offered in the spam. This, right there, is one of the major reasons why spam continues and is a growing problem. Out of 800 people surveyed, almost 100 of them were interested enough in the products sold by spam to respond positively. There are roughly 1.6 billion people on the Internet, which gives spammers a market of 200 million people for their spam.
Other studies have seen similar responses, that is consumers do respond to spam. Most surveys don’t define spam, however, and given a lot of consumers call “mail I don’t like” or “all commercial email” as spam it’s hard to know what the respondents are responding too. In some studies, some respondents even defined mail from companies that they had given their email address to, but had not explicitly asked for email from as spam.  In this study MAAWG did request how the respondent defined spam. Of the respondents, 60% say spam is mail they did not solicit, and 41% say spam is mail that ends up in the spam folder. Given that 60% of respondents define spam as “unsolicited email” it is possible that some people are responding to mail they never requested.
Sad news for those of us who were hoping that lack of consumer response would make spamming unprofitable enough that spammers would stop.
The crosstab between “how do you define spam” and “how do you react to spam” may be an interesting data set to see.

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