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One in five Brits 'buy software from spam'

Forrester's astonishing estimate

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More than one in five British consumers (22 per cent) has purchased software in response to spam email, a study by Forrester Research claims. The study - sponsored by the Business Software Alliance - found that a substantial minority of punters are quite happy to make junk mail purchases across a broad range of products.

Other popular junk mail purchases included clothes and jewellery (23 per cent), leisure and travel (20 per cent), finance (18 per cent), adult content (8 per cent), pharmaceuticals (8 per cent) and "business opportunities" (8 per cent).

The survey didn't ask how many times spam-happy Brits bought products advertised through junk mail or how much they spent. Forrester's pool of 1,000 UK respondents were recruited online, a factor that could have affected their responses. How else to explain BSA / Forrester's surprisingly large figures?

Appetite for distraction

Taken at face value the survey suggests an estimated 5.4m-5.8m Britons* have bought software through junk mail offers. Anti-spam firms and economists talk of response rates to spam of around one in 10,000 or less. This sits uncomfortably against the idea that a substantial minority of people are looking through junk mail messages for bargains.

The BSA said its survey looks at a different metric of how many people ever bought through spam compared to the percentage of spam messages that result in a purchase. A reasonable response - but we remain sceptical about this survey. Some people do respond to spam - otherwise it wouldn't exist. But the idea that Briton harbours five million-plus people who bought software by junk email strains belief.

Nine in ten of those polled in the UK by Forrester received spam. Apparently, 23 per cent of spam gets read, according to the study. Again this figure raises eyebrows.

The study also found 37 per cent are concerned that malicious code in spam might led to theft of personal information. Two in five (40 per cent) of respondents to the study reckoned spam is harmful to internet security.

Buyer beware

Most Reg readers are tech-savvy and are unlikely to respond to spam. But the BSA reckons many people are being duped into buying illegal software after responding to spam offers, without realising the dangers. BSA spokesman Mike Newton warned these purchases carry a high security risk. It has published a check-list advising people how to spot "software spam scams".

Newton said: "Many online consumers don't consider the true motives of spammers. Organised crime rings use spam to gain access to personal information. By selling software that appears to be legitimate, spammers are hiding spyware without consumers' knowledge."

Forrester quizzed 6,000 in six countries (Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, the UK and US) last month in researching the study. The global version of the study found that 27 per cent of those quizzed had bought spamvertised software. Other popular junk mail purchases included clothes and jewellery (24 per cent), leisure travel (20 per cent), finance (12 per cent), adult content (10 per cent), pharmaceuticals (13 per cent) and "business opportunities" (11 per cent). ®

* In July 2004, 58 per cent of UK adults had used the internet at least once in the last three months. Out of an estimated UK population of 59.6m, 80 per cent or 47.7m - are 16 and above. There were 44.1m adults on the electoral roll for the last general election (2001), the number of UK adults is going to be slightly higher than this but let's take this figure as an estimate.

Putting these stats together we get an estimate of 25.6m adults in the UK who are active net users (27.7m over 16s). According to the BSA/Forrester study, 22 per cent of this 25.6m or 5.6m have purchased software through spam. Forester said its figures are accurate to within 3 per cent, so we're talking about an estimated 5.2m-5.8m of Britons who have bought software through junk mail offers.

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