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The carbon footprint of spam?

Is spam causing the environmental hazard of greenhouse gas emissions?

That's what McAfee says in its “Carbon Footprint of Spam” report released Wednesday, which states climate-change researchers from the firm ICF and McAfee's security staff calculated that the amount of energy needed to transmit, process and filter spam globally is equal to 33 billion kilowatt-hours each year. They say that can also be expressed as the equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes annually or the same green-house gas emissions from 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gas.

“This has solid math and science behind it,” says Dave Marcus, director of research and communications at McAfee. “This is the first type of research of its kind.”

McAfee, which sells antispam filtering products and naturally wants organizations to invest in “state-of-the-art spam filtering technology,” according to Jeff Green, senior vice president of product development, thinks efficient spam filtering “will pay dividends to the planet by reducing carbon emissions as well.”

While evoking greenhouse gases in the name of selling spam filtering is a novel approach, McAfee and ICF are dead earnest about the harmful effects of spam on the natural environment.

But the report also points out there's some environmental harm done by filtering spam, too.

According to the “Carbon Footprint of Spam” report, the average greenhouse gas emission with a single spam message is 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2).

“That's like driving three feet (one meter),” the report states. “But when multiplied by the yearly volume of spam, it is equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times.”

Almost 80% of the energy use attributed to spam comes from users deleting spam and searching for legit e-mail. But spam filtering itself accounts for about 16% of spam-related energy use, according to the report.

So shutting down spam sources, such as the takedown of the notorious McColo spam machine last year — represents a huge energy savings to the environment, Marcus says.

When it comes to a country-by-country analysis of spam's harm to the environment, the United States and India are said to have proportionately higher emissions per e-mail that anywhere else. The United States, according to the report, “had emissions that were 38 times that of Spain.”

While Canada, China, Brazil, India, the United States and the United Kingdom were deemed roughly equivalent in the spam study, Australia, Germany, France, Mexico and Spain came in 10% lower in environmental impact. Spain was the lowest, with the smallest amount of e-mail spam and energy use per e-mail user.

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