Junk Email Survey

Cambridge 2000 memos

May 2001

Most people who have email accounts eventually get junk email. And if your email address ever ends up on any list then you have had it, you will get junk email forever more. This is a survey of junk email received at one particular email account during the month of April, 2001.

One thing is clear straight away. Junk postal mail is often irritating or laughable, but almost all of it is genuine in the sense that someone is trying to sell you something that is potentially useful, such as financial services (e.g. credit cards, or loans). By contrast junk email is almost never genuine and genuine businesses do not use it.

During the 30 day survey the email account received 312 junk emails, i.e. over 10 per day. The minimum number received in a given day was 3, and the maximum 17. The number received per day was largely uncorrelated with day of the week, junk emailers are perfectly happy to work on weekends.

Junk email was classified into five categories: money, sex, health, offers and education.

The "money" category covered all the emails of the type "reduce your debt", which are bound to be entrapments of one sort or another, or more amusingly emails of the type "earn 10000 dollars in 1 day doing nothing". 59% of the junk email received was in the money category. It is perhaps not too surprising that the majority of junk email is to do with money, and the fact that a lot of that is to do with easy money is just in keeping with the internet itself being the largest pyramid scheme in history.

The "sex" category was second behind money, comprising 20% of the junk email. Some of these were offers to visit various websites and some were just attachments. Unfortunately as with all the junk emails surveyed the websites referred to were not visited (one does not want to get targetted by the authorities just for the sake of research) and attachments were obviously avoided (so they might have been just viruses instead of to do with sex).

The "health" category was for emails which promised that you could "lose 20 pounds in 20 minutes". This comprised 11% of the junk email.

The "offers" category was for junk emails which made a real offer (often to do with inkjet cartridges for some, perhaps random, reason). These could almost be considered genuine junk email, but all had the flavour which made you suspicious that they were most likely just an out and out con. 8% of the junk email was in this category.

Finally the "education" category was for junk email which offered U.N.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y diplomas without even having to go to university, what a bargain. This comprised 3% of the junk email.

In summary, money still rules the world, sex comes in a feeble second.

Cambridge 2000 memos