Spam is taking its toll, driving 25 percent of Americans away from using email.

IT managers have known for quite some time that the increasing flood of spam is hogging corporate bandwidth, filling email boxes to overflowing, forcing them to buy extra email servers and wasting employee productivity. Now a new report shows that people are actually using email less because they don't want to deal with the digital scourge.

''People just love email and it really bothers them that spam is ruining such a good thing,'' says Deborah Fallows, a senior research fellow at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, an organization focused on researching the Internet's impact on society. ''People resent spam's intrusions. They are angered by its deceptions, and they are offended by much of the truly disgusting content.''


The Pew group did a nationwide survey of nearly 1,400 Internet users and found that 25 percent of respondents report that they use email less because of spam, and that spam has reduced their overall use of email in a 'big way'. The survey also shows that 75 percent of email users are bothered that they can't stop the flow of spam, regardless of their efforts.

Another 70 percent says spam has made being online unpleasant or annoying. And 55 percent says they receive so much spam that it's difficult to get to the email they actually want.

Spam is consuming an ever-increasing amount of IT managers' time.

A recent study has shown that spam has become such an obstacle on enterprise networks that battling it has replaced security as the top corporate priority when it comes to messaging.

A new report from The Radicati Group, Inc., a market research firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., shows that 52 percent of companies rate reducing spam as their top priority. Improving security against information leaks and hackers came in second with 30 percent, and migrating or upgrading messaging software came in third with 28 percent.

The Corporate Messaging Survey shows that the enterprise focus on messaging definitely has shifted over the last three years. In 2001 and 2002, security issues took the top seat. But this year, security has taken a backseat to controlling spam.

Spam has increased at such a high rate this year that it now accounts for at least half of all email messages flowing into corporate inboxes.

MessageLabs, Inc., a New York-based email security company, says spam made up 50 percent of all corporate email this past summer. Analysts there also note that they stopped 79.7 million spam emails in the month of July. That's 10 million more than the total number stopped in all of 2002.

And as much as people complain about spam, enough are responding to its offers of quick weight loss, pornography and cheap real estate schemes that spamming continues to be profitable.

The Pew group reports that about 7 percent of emailers -- or approximately 8 million people -- say that they have ordered a product or service that was offered in an unsolicited email. And one-third of email users say they have clicked on a link in a spam email to get more information.