No More Spam?

Bill Gates was wildly optimistic when he said in 2004 that the problem of spam would be "solved" by 2006. The volume of junk e-mail transmitted worldwide is still enormous. But a remarkable trend is underfoot, according to Brad Taylor, a staff software engineer at Google: The number of spam attempts -- that is, the number of junk messages sent out by spammers -- is flat, and may even be declining for the first time in years.

Google won't disclose numbers, but the company says that spam attempts, as a percentage of e-mail that's transmitted through its Gmail system, have waned over the last year. That could indicate that some spammers have gotten discouraged and have stopped trying to get through Google’s spam filters.

Google data suggests that incoming spam (the red line) has flattened or declined for the first time in years. (The blue line represents the percent of spam that is missed by Gmail filters and reported by users as arriving in their inboxes.)

Other experts disagree with Google, pointing out that overall spam attempts continue to rise. By most estimates, tens of billions of spam messages are sent daily. Yet for most users, the amount of spam arriving in their inboxes has remained relatively flat, thanks to improved filtering.

For its part, Yahoo, too, says the overall amount of spam transmitted is on the rise, but the percentage of spam that reaches its users’ inboxes is down.

Email providers like Google, Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft's Hotmail use sophisticated filtering algorithms that are constantly updated based on spam reports from individual users. Google says it can delete all instances of a single spam message across the Gmail network in seconds.

New anti-spam technologies are also always under development, and there are already countless anti-spam services and technologies available to consumers, including disposable e-mail addresses. It's by no means a perfect system, though. And spammers are, if nothing else, persistent.