For the month of April, the 50 participants in the S.P.A.M project -- they include homemakers, government executives, students and retirees from around the world -- will respond to spam emails, surf the web, make online purchases and register for promotions.
McAfee has provided the volunteers – picked after responding to an ad on Craigslist – with a "clean" laptop without spam protection, a new email address and, in a few cases, a pre-paid credit card. In return, the participants will blog about their experiences daily at www.mcafeespamexperiment.com.
The volunteers will act like they are clueless about spam, with instructions to reply to spam emails and see where it takes them, Dave Marcus, research and communications manager for McAfee's Avert Labs, told SCMagazineUS.com. A few will actually purchase products advertised in inbound spam, he said.
"We want to show in an actual setting, and not in theory, what can potentially happen to your credit, your identity and your inbox by buying stuff advertised in actual spam," he said. "There's so much talk about taking this measure or that measure to protect against spam, and we want to show that, if you're not protected against spam, what happens when you try to buy from spam.”
"Evan," a blogger in Los Angeles and one of five U.S. participants in the experiment, told SCMagazineUS.com that he's taking part so he can be "proactive" in helping fight spam.
"I'm intrigued by spam generally as a social phenomenon -- it's something that should be illegal, but isn't,” he said.
He called spam "something of a pain for 90 percent of the online population. Almost everyone I know who uses email deals with spam on a regular basis and is bothered by it to varying degrees, depending on how good they are at avoiding it."
He said he receives about 20 spam emails a day -- typically those selling Rolex watches and male-enhancement products -- via his Gmail account, but he said he is careful what he signs up for.
In addition to the five U.S. participants, McAfee has recruited participants from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. Other U.S. participants are "Bill," a retired accountant in San Francisco; "Tracy," a mother of three and realtor in Chicago; "Karen," an elementary school teacher who teaches computer security skills in New York; and "Katya," a psychology graduate student in Chicago.