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Don’t trust yourself to catch spam

Consumers may be more Internet-savvy than ever, but they're still highly susceptible to the threat of spam. McAfee announced the results of its first-ever "spam quiz," which revealed that consumers misjudge Web site e-mail practices almost half the time.

The quiz, launched August 15 by the McAfee SiteAdvisor team, presented consumers with the homepages and privacy policy links of eight pairs of Web sites, and asked them to judge which site from each pair would likely guard their e-mail address.

With more than 7,000 responses tabulated, the average score was only 55%, indicating that consumers are poor judges of which Web sites share e-mail addresses with third-party advertisers.

Among the key findings from McAfee's spam quiz:

- The average test taker answered three to four questions incorrectly on the eight-question quiz. A consumer who chose the three "worst" sites would have received as many as 2,000 e-mails per week. On average, submitting an e-mail address to just one of the quiz's risky sites could lead to over 300 spammy e-mails per week.

- Even though each site featured in the quiz included a prominent link to its privacy policy, only half the respondents reviewed the sites' privacy policies before submitting their answers.

- One featured site had its privacy policy link conspicuously missing. Still, nearly half the quiz takers incorrectly chose that site as safe, instead of the other site that did include a privacy policy.

- Credit cards and online dating were the most difficult categories. Only 44% and 40% of quiz takers, respectively, answered these questions correctly. The streamlined design of the risky sites in these categories may have given consumers a false sense of security.

The examples in the spam quiz are taken from more than 6.7 million Web sites where McAfee registered with a unique, one-time-use e-mail address in order to measure the volume and content of any subsequent e-mail from each tested site.

The pairs of sites used in the quiz come from popular online categories. The percentage of consumers able to correctly determine a Web site's safety varied by category:

-- Online Dating Sites: 40%

-- Credit Cards Sites: 44%

-- Petition Sites: 52%

-- Sweepstakes Sites: 53%

-- Jokes Sites: 56%

-- E-Card Sites: 57%

-- Games Sites: 68%

-- Scholarships Sites: 68%

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.