Spam: Bad for You, Bad for the Environment
Article by George Norman
On 15 Apr 2009
We already knew what spam is all about: clogging up web traffic, annoying the heck out of users, leading unwary users to malware spreading sites, and generally being a source of nuisance. According to report commissioned by security software developer McAfee, there is one more item you can add to that list: spam is bad for the environment. The report, which is entitled “The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report”, reveals the fact that spam messages use up as much energy as it would be need to power 2.1 million US homes; all that energy wasted on spam messages amounts to huge quantities of CO2 (carbon dioxide) being released into the atmosphere.

“When you look at it from an individual user perspective you're only talking about 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide per spam message. When you extrapolate the math out to the larger numbers, it definitely is significant. This really gives people a different way of looking at it. Aside from the nuisance factor, it actually has a quantifiable impact on the environment,” explained director of security research and communications at McAfee's Avert Labs, Dave Marcus, in an interview for PCWorld.


Just how significant an impact does spam has on the environment? Here are the key findings provided by “The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report”:

- In 2008 an estimated 62 trillion spam emails were sent.
- On a global level, spam uses 33 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh) or 33 terawatt hours (TWh) per year.
- Spam filtering saves about 135 TWh each year, the equivalent of taking 13 million cars off the road.
- If every inbox would have an adequate spam filter, an estimated 25 TWh per year would be saved; that a 75% decrease in power consumption and the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road.
- One spam message (as in a single spam message) releases 0.3 grams of CO2 in the atmosphere, the equivalent of driving 3ft or 1m in your car. Compare that to the total number of spam messages that are sent over the course of 1 year and it is like driving around the Earth 1.6 million times.
- 16% of the power usage associated with spam is made up of spam filtering; 52% of the power usage is made up of users deleting spam and searching for legitimate emails that were flagged as spam (false positives).
- After the McColo takedown, spam levels saw a significant decrease. The power savings associated with that decrease amount to taking 2.2 million cars off the road.

If you would like to read “The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report” commissioned by McAfee and put together by ICF International, please click here (PDF warning).

Tags: Spam, McAfee, ICF International, The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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