Business-like, isn't he?



Columbia Journal

    Canadians are smarter about avoiding email sales pitches

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Columbia Journal March 2005

    Canadians like to think of themselves as superior to their cousins to the south. We have health care, they have hand guns. But at the same time, we feel inferior, always ever so thrilled if they recognize one of our musicians or actors or scientists (after he or she has moved to LA or New York).

    But what should we make of these statistics revealed in Ipsos-Reid’s recent survey of Internet trends?

    Ipsos-Reid’s recently-released survey revealed that spam email accounted for about half of the messages cluttering Canadian’s inboxes in 2004. But is that glass half full or half empty? 49% spam is a lot of junk messages, but for the first time in the past four years, it’s lower than the previous year. In 2003, some 68% of messages were spam. The difference is probably due to a massive increase in usage of spam filtering software—both by individuals on their own computers, and by business networks and Internet Service Providers, filtering mail before it even reached your computers.

    According to Ipsos-Reid, 77% of the people polled said they were using spam filtering in 2004, compared to 41% in 2003.

    Legislation by both the US and Canada has been enacted, but I’m doubtful that it’s had much effect; certainly there hasn’t been much enforcement of the laws in either country, and I don’t see any evidence that it’s been much of a deterrent.

    Ipsos-Reid polls, though, indicated some interesting differences between American and Canadian users in how they respond to spam. 47%, nearly half, of the Americans polled had responded to spam by clicking to get more information. Only 20% of Canadians had taken that step. (Responding to spam—even clicking on a message promising to remove you from the spammer’s mailing list lets the sender know that they’ve reached a valid email address, resulting in more unwanted junk mail. Don’t do it!)

    30% of Americans have entered spam-promoted contests, compared to 15% of Canadians. And nearly 20% of Americans admit to buying something advertised in a spam message.

    (Many wonder why, since everyone claims to resent spam, advertisers continue to churn out the stuff. If 19% of Americans buy something in response to an advertising pitch that costs next to nothing to send out, it’s no wonder that the garbage continues to pile up in our inboxes).

    Canadians seem much more resistant to the sort of marketing. A mere 1% of Canadians polled admit to buying something advertised in a spam email message.

    (Of course, maybe Canadians are just shyer about admitting that they’d fallen for a spammer’s spiel).

    If, despite the reported drop in the amount of spam showing up in Canadian inboxes, you’re still feeling overwhelmed by junk mail, start by checking with your Internet Service Provider or your employer’s network administrator; check whether they are providing spam filtering. If your ISP isn’t filtering out spam before it gets to you, consider taking your business elsewhere. Your ISP may be offering spam filtering, but waiting for you to turn it on; Shaw cable Internet customers, for example, need to log onto Shaw’s webmail service ( and turn on spam filtering in the preferences.

    As well, start using email software that include spam filtering; Apple’s Mail, Mozilla Firebird, the paid (but not free) version of Eudora, and recent versions of Microsoft Outlook (but not Outlook Express) are some that do. Free programs such as PopFile or MailWasher can work with email software that doesn’t include built-in filtering.

    While the amount of spam making it into Canadian inboxes is down, other email perils continue. The same Ipsos-Reid survey suggests that in 2004, 58% of Canadians reported receiving virus-infected files via email, 14% higher than in the previous year.

     Stay vigilant; it’s still a dangerous Internet out there.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at