April 15, 2005 -- In this week's "Cybershake," we take a look at what the latest survey reveals about Net users' attitudes regarding junk e-mail. Plus, we note that the Web is still abuzz over the passing of Pope John Paul II, as well as speculation on who will be the next leader of the Catholic Church.
The State of Spam
It's been more than a year since the CAN-SPAM Act became law. But whether legislation against unsolicited commercial e-mail -- colloquially known as "spam" -- has been effective is still debatable.
Last week, Jeremy Jaynes, 30, was sentenced to nine years in prison for bombarding the Internet with an estimated 10 million pieces of spam a day. Considered one of the top 10 spammers globally, Jaynes was convicted last November in Virginia under a state law that prohibits unsolicited bulk e-mail under a falsified account.
But according to the latest report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, an arm of the nonprofit Pew Research Center in Washington, spamming certainly hasn't gone away.
In a telephone survey of 1,421 adult Internet users in the United States, 28 percent of respondents with a personal e-mail account reported getting more spam than a year ago. Only 22 percent said they were getting less junk in their inboxes. Of those with work e-mail accounts, 21 percent said they received more spam while only 16 percent said less.
Overall, 52 percent of those surveyed said spam was still a "big problem." Only 45 percent said that of pop-up ads on Web pages.
"We found that people said they were in fact getting a little bit more spam than they were [did] a year ago," said Deborah Fallows, a senior research fellow at the Pew Project. "But it didn't seem to be troubling them as much as it did a year ago."
Fallows said when compared to results from a similar Pew survey conducted in February 2004, the current survey shows e-mail users' attitudes about spam have changed. Some indicators:
53 percent of e-mail users now say spam has made them less trusting of e-mail, compared to 62 percent a year ago.
22 percent of respondents say spam has reduced their overall use of e-mail, compared to 29 percent a year ago.
67 percent say spam has made being online unpleasant or annoying. A year ago, 77 percent of respondents were annoyed by spam.
Fallows says people may just be getting used to the ads. But, she also believes that anti-spam technology such as software filters that block messages based on its content may be playing an important role, too.
One thing revealed by the Pew survey that is troubling: 35 percent of respondents have received "phish," or e-mails from identity thieves seeking personal information for illegal use.
"Two percent of those 35 percent of people have actually given up their personal financial track records to the spammers," said Fallows. "And of course, they've been pretty burned by it"
U.S. lawmakers are working on new legal statutes to combat online phishing and other forms of identity theft. But some doubt the laws will be any more effective than those designed to regulate spam.
David Oblon, the defense attorney for convicted spammer Jaynes, plans to appeal his client's sentence by challenging the constitutionality of the Virginia law. And the judge presiding over Jaynes' case has already suspended his jail sentence, pending the appellate court's decision.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project survey was conducted between Jan 19 and Feb. 9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent. The full report, Spam and Phishing, can be found on the Pew Web site: www.pewinternet.org.
-- Andrea Smith, ABC News
Pick a Pope Online
Now that the body of Pope John Paul II has been entombed beneath the great Basilica of the Vatican, much of the attention turns toward who will succeed him. On Monday, the College of Cardinals wll meet to begin choosing a new pontiff.
To ensure secrecy at the conclave, the Vatican has hired one of Italy's top anti-spy companies to sweep the Sistene Chapel for concealed listening devices and other digital surveillance equipment.
While the conclave's proceeding remains hidden, scores of Web sites have sprouted up that hope to shed light on the possible candidates and succession process. Some, such as ElectAPope.com, even allow visitors to cast their own virtual votes for the next pope.
And for those who were not able to go to Rome for the funeral of John Paul II, the Carmelite nuns of Indianapolis have a Web site, PrayTheNews.com, where you can still light a virtual candle and submit an online prayer.
-- Jim Hickey, ABC News
Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.