Thursday, 16 April 2009

The energy use of spam

McAfee has carried out some research that shows that the annual energy used to transmit, process and filter spam totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or 33 terawatt hours (TWh). That’s equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes, with the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of fuel.

The “Carbon Footprint of Spam” study looked at global energy expended to create, store, view and filter spam in 11 countries and averaged its findings to arrive at the global impact. The study found that the average GHG emission associated with a single spam message is 0.3 grams of CO2. That's like driving three feet (one metre); but when multiplied by the yearly volume of spam, it is equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times.

It also found that nearly 80% of the energy consumption associated with spam comes from end-users deleting spam and searching for legitimate e-mail (false positives). Spam filtering accounts for just 16% of spam-related energy use.

The conclusion is that if every inbox were protected by a state-of-the-art spam filter, organisations and individuals could reduce spam energy use by 75% or 25 TWh per year, the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road. So spam filtering can help save the planet - another win-win for an IT provider.

My only carp about this report is that McAfee demands details, including email address, before it can be downloaded. There's no indication of what the email address will be used for (and no email opt-out choice), so it will be interesting to see whether McAfee is adding to the spam problem.


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