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Unsolicited Commercial Email (Spam) and Older Persons Online

In 2002, there were 16.6 million age 55+ online users, 11 percent of all online users. By 2007, the proportion of older online users is estimated to increase to 17 percent, and to account for almost one-fourth of all online retail spending. Recent estimates report that unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) accounts for approximately one-half of all e-mail traffic, costing U.S. businesses an estimated $10 to $87 billion annually.

In this AARP Public Policy Institute Data Digest, Sharon Hermanson details the results of a national survey of 1,018 age 50+ users who reported using a personal e-mail account at least four times a week. Of those surveyed...

  • 81 percent reported making purchases using their personal e-mail account; of these purchasers, 16 percent bought something they learned about through UCE
  • 16 percent described at least 90 percent of their e-mails as UCE; 85 percent said that UCE invades privacy (45%) or is irritating (40%), while 4 percent viewed it as a way to see new products
  • approximately four of five respondents strongly supported each of the following requirements for UCE: pornographic identifiers (84%), accurate return addresses (76%), and clear subject identifiers (78%)
  • 82 percent supported a Do-Not-Spam list, while 6 percent responded that UCE should continue as it is and not be further restricted

The digest concludes that "there is no UCE 'silver bullet' and solutions must be pursued from many directions - technological, legal, and consumer action." (6 pages)

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