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The Carbon Footprint Of Spam

April 15, 2009

It appears that even e-mail spammers have a carbon footprint.

According to a new study, spammers are not only pests to e-mail inboxes, they are also massive energy hogs.

Spammers produced 62 trillion junk e-mails in 2008, which translated into enough energy to power 2.4 million US homes for a year or the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gasoline, according to researchers from computer security firm McAfee Inc and climate-change researchers ICF.

The electricity required to process one single spam e-mail message results in 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

“While the spam that arrives in any individual’s inbox may create just a small puff of (carbon dioxide), the puff multiplied by millions of users worldwide adds up,” McAfee wrote.

In 2008, McColo, which is a major source of online spam, was taken offline and global spam volume dropped 70 percent.

“The energy saved in the ensuing lull before spammers rebuilt their sending capacity, equated to taking 2.2 million cars off the road that day, proving the impact of the 62 trillion spam e-mails that are sent each year,” said researchers.

The study looked at energy involved in creating, storing, viewing and filtering spam across 11 countries. Researchers found that almost 80 percent of spam’s carbon footprint came from the energy expended by users’ PCs while viewing or deleting unsolicited messages.

Spam filtering saves 135 TWh of electricity per year. That is equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road, the study found.

“If every inbox were protected by a state-of-the-art spam filter, organizations and individuals could reduce today’s spam energy by 75 percent or 25 TWh per year, the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road,” said McAfee.

Unwanted messages account for 97 percent of all e-mail, according to the AP, which cited new figures from Microsoft Inc.

“As the world faces the growing problem of climate change, this study highlights that spam has an immense financial, personal and environmental impact on businesses and individuals,” said Jeff Green, senior vice president of product development and McAfee Avert Labs.

“Stopping spam at its source, as well investing in state-of-the-art spam filtering technology, will save time and money, and will pay dividends to the planet by reducing carbon emissions as well.”

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