Inappropriate Content

Some cross-section of spam email will contain sexual content and/or products of an adult nature. These emails are indiscriminately sent to everyone on a given mailing list, meaning children can be exposed via email. Spam filters take care of a great deal of this inappropriate content, but as we talked about, a certain subset still gets through.

An early study published in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) classified 400 unique messages sent to the AT&T and Lucent sub-domains under study for three months in 1997. The leading categories were money-making opportunities (36%); adult entertainment including singles services; and sexually oriented products or services (11%). Regulatory issues were the main focus of the article. More recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) analyzed a sample of 1000 items from 11 million messages and again, investment/business opportunities (20%), adult-oriented spam (18%), and finance (17%) were the most common categories. Two thirds (66%) of messages contained false “from” lines, “subject” lines, or message text.7


In 2007, 80% of youth said they received inappropriate email on a daily basis. They reported that these emails made them feel:

  • Annoyed – 51%
  • Uncomfortable – 34%
  • Offended – 23%
  • Curious – 13%

Importantly, 38% of children who received emails with sexual content did not tell their parents about it.8


7 Eva J. Nesselroth-Woyzbun, Ojelanki Ngwenyama, and Wendy L. Cukier, “Genres of Spam,” Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems 20, no. 1 (2008): 69-91.
8 “Symantec Survey Reveals More Than 80 Percent of Children Using Email Receive Inappropriate Spam Daily,” Symantec (June 9, 2003), accessed Dec. 14, 2013.

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