Whatever the device you use to check your mail, mobile, desktop or tablet, there’s one thing in common: spam in your mailbox! To get a handle on it, let’s have a rundown on some email stats:

  • A total of 196.3 billion emails are sent/received worldwide per day in 2014
  • There are currently over 4.1 billion email accounts: of this 2/3 are approximately consumer accounts and 1/3 are corporate.
  • But most of the world’s email traffic comes from the business world: 55% is corporate and 45% consumer.
  • Business users send and receive on average 121 emails a day in 2014.
  • 36 are sent and 85 received.  Of these 75 are ham (legitimate mail) and 10 are spam.
  • But these 10 spam mails are the tip of the iceberg!  They are the spam actually delivered to the user mailbox, not spam caught by reputation filters or trapped in quarantine folders.  (All figures according to Radicarti.)

2014 05 05 anneau xl 2014 05 05 SPAM GRAF

Indeed, according to Symantec, in February of this year, spam comprised 64% of all emails sent globally.  I.e. for every solicited mail received (ham), you got two others that were spam (almost!).  Sex/dating spam is the most common category of spam, at 55% and pharmaceutical comes a close second at 40%. Pity then Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who is reputed to receive almost 11,000 mails per day, most of them spam.

Not so Happy 20th Birthday

Email was opened up to the general public at the start of the 1990s and since then spam has been a problem due to the low barriers for entry (it’s cheap to set up) and low level of prosecution.  One of the first major cases of commercial spamming (the “Green card spam”) occurred twenty years ago March 5, 1994.  And since then email spam has grown steadily.

But what does spam mean?

The word spam includes 3 very different  ideas. First, there is spam that is a vehicle for cybercrime: ie there are links in the mail sending the reader to phishing web sites (fake Web sites made to look like they are from banks or other companies such as iTunes) to obtain personal details or sites that are hosting malware.

Secondly there is commercial spam that is selling a legitimate product or service, but the recipient  did not sign up to receive information on: ie the message is unsolicited.   This is the case when a company is trying for a ‘panic growth’ email campaign.  And obtains the email addresses through dubious sources.  Companies may be attracted to this ‘get-rich-quick’ practice, but the after-effects are a very negative impact on their sender reputation.  It’s better to think quality of database addresses, rather than quantity.

And finally there is “graymail”: the receiver opted into getting the newsletters or notifications but now they’re no longer interested.   It’s called graymail because of those who have signed up, some people will consider the newsletter as being useful and some will consider it as being spam (even though it strictly isn’t).  Businesses can manage and reduce this perceived spam by checking consumers still wish to receive their newsletters, offering them email preferences and different frequencies of email: daily, weekly, monthly.

Am I sending spam?

The legal definition of spam differs across the world.  However, as a general guide, for a company’s email not to not be considered as spam it must contain an unsubscribe link , be requested by the individual and have content which is in line with the readers’ expectations. In the US, the CAN SPAM Act requires in addition to the above:

–          a physical address of the business

–          a clear subject line

–          a legitimate header: relevant to the content of the mail

–          all unsubscribes are processed within 10 business days of receipt

If you are a business getting email addresses for your newsletter campaigns, as a best practice, everywhere you collect email addresses ask for explicit permission to send email.   (More information on the CAN SPAM Act for your company can be found here)

How can an email service provider help?

A marketing campaign software can stop spam before it is happens.  Email marketing apps can:

  • automatically include unsubscribe links in the newsletters
  • provide opt-out templates
  • even ‘scan’ the prepared message to check if opt-out links are included and warn the software user if they’re not present.


Key takeaway: by respecting legal requirements (opt-out links etc) and checking consumers are still interested, businesses can help to reduce spam.

Even with high performance filters, some spam will get through to our inbox, so we must be careful not to fall into a cybercriminal’s trap.  If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably spam.

(Image at start of article by Matson)