Posts Tagged ‘spam’

Environmental Impact of Spam

Thursday, April 16th, 2009
Pollution By Another Means

Pollution By Another Means

McAfee Inc., a computer security company, has just released its study “The Carbon Footprint of E-mail Spam” in which it reports that spammers generated approximately 62 trillion junk e-mail messages in 2008 that consumed electricity sufficient to power 2.4 million U.S. homes for a year. This wasted energy, that computers consume while users are viewing, deleting or sifting through spam generates needless greenhouse emissions. Spam filters block out most spam from ever reaching their destination; nevertheless, because most e-mail is spam, people spend about 100 billion user-hours annually dealing with the spam that makes it through the filters to their inboxes. According to Microsoft, 97% of e-mail is spam.

What can we do? I like the suggestions put forward by Seth Goldin in his book, Small Is the New Big, in which he calls for accountability, as anonymous strangers have made our lives miserable. Anonymous e-mail messages that clog our inboxes would go away if it could be traced to those who send it. So he suggests a parallel Internet where the only participants are those who verify their identities. Google, he suggests, could sell its G-mail accounts for $1, requiring people to pay with credit cards to verify their identities. Then you would only accept messages from such verifiable senders. Let’s hope his suggestion is implemented by the tech companies; they would quickly build user loyalty as we are all eager to end this abuse of our time.

Private, but Not Anonymous

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008


I was encouraged by a recent report that a U.S. federal court shut down the world’s largest spam operator. Not that I believe that this action will slow the tide of spam; indeed, the last time that the federal government shut down a spam operator, other players stepped in to fill the void, increasing the overall volume of spam. What I found encouraging was that three million Americans took the time to file complaints against this particular spam operator. But given the economic payoff of spam – it costs nothing to send and only a miniscule proportion of responses is necessary to make it profitable – it is unlikely that government or regulatory action can stop it. Market mechanisms are needed to change the risk/reward ratio for the spam operators.

Seth Godin had an interesting insight: he questioned what would happen if Google were to charge $1 annually for its Gmail accounts, payable on a valid credit card, rather than allow free account access? And what if Google would fine violaters of their anti-spam rules? They could change the rules of the game for spammers, as Google e-mails would be more readily accepted for their anti-spam provisions. Journalists have also taken matters into their own hands to reduce spam volume by sanctioning public relations firms that abuse them with frivolous, irrelevant pitches. Some journalists will “out” the offenders in trade communications, while others will blacklist them such that the p.r. firm pays a penalty in that future communications are not accepted in the journalist’s e-mail inbox. One reporter from the New York Times even went so far as to publish a spam pitch from a named p.r. firm to embarrass them into stopping.

Of course, such measures that the journalists are undertaking divert their time from more productive pursuits. But they are an attempt to address the anonymity that allows spam abuse to continue, by changing the risk/reward ratios for the perpetrators. Ultimately it is this market action that will address this abuse; the Federal Trade Commission is impotent to stop the spam tsunami, its recent enforcement action notwithstanding.