The meaning of spam
Users divided over definition
Businesses in the US and UK agree that spam is a problem, but according to MessageLabs many users cannot reach a consensus on its definition.
According to MessageLabs' recent survey, an average of 15 percent of e-mails received by businesses contain spam. One third of the respondents to the UK survey said that spam was currently a problem and three quarters of the respondents expected it to become a problem in the future.
Meanwhile, over 50 percent of the respondents to the US survey said that spam represents 30 percent of their daily e-mail load. Furthermore, around half of those questioned who had spam-filtering technology in place said that it was "ineffective" or "very ineffective."
Despite this deluge of unsolicited mail, approximately 58 percent of those questioned in the US said that they do not want to get rid of spam altogether, but need a better way to filter the messages they want from the messages that they would like to block.
"The problem is not only that it gets through, but that firms don't know how to define it," explained Jos White, marketing director at e-mail security development firm MessageLabs. "With viruses it is easy, but one man's spam is potentially another's useful information." Filtering is difficult to implement because users are unable to agree on a definition of spam, MessageLabs claimed.
According to the survey, 90 percent of UK respondents said that spam was promotional or marketing e-mail from someone they did not know, whereas 89 percent said that it was an e-mail containing information clearly irrelevant to their work. Eighty-one percent said it was news or information from someone they didn't know and 71 percent considered it to be an e-mail they did not request, regardless of content or sender.
Only 29 percent said that a promotional e-mail from an organisation they know was spam, with only 12 percent saying the same for news or information from a source they recognised. In contrast nearly a third defined a mass circulation business e-mail from within the company as spam.
The survey was carried out among 160 UK IT directors and managers and 200 general business managers across the US.