Spam is not marketing, it's a crime against humanity

Posted on January 21, 2008

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This is the second entry in Scholars & Rogues’s 2008 Wish List for the World

spamhaus logo
Spamcop logo

My Inbox on Monday morning read like this:

  • [No Subject]
  • 逆援をお考えの女性の方へ
  • Attract and meet your dream mate tonight
  • Join the Anatrim revolution
  • Quit smoking and live longer
  • JANUARY 75% OFF!
  • CoyPhallusOverlarge
  • This maybe the best stock pick of the year!
  • www pharmacy com online us
  • Register CAS1NO, GET FREE VIP BONUs 2400$, Win & Party!
  • Morttage refiinancing online…
  • Isn’t strong & powerful full-size dic’k your dream?

Ok, so that was my spam trap, not my actual Inbox, but my spam trap caught those and 311 others very much like them in the roughly 8 hours since I’d last cleaned out the trap. The veritable flood of spam I get every day renders moot the two real emails I had in the same 8-hour period.

According to SoftScan, the UK-based business email security company, 97.13% of all email were spam or viruses in December, up from 96.18% in October, 2007. A year ago, the number was 88.46%, and in June, 2006 the number stood at 85.47%. According to CSO, the number of spam per day doubled from the beginning to the end of 2007, from roughly 60 billion to 120 billion. And a rough calculation available from Pingdom suggests that all this spam takes up 512 terabytes of email memory every day.

At roughly $0.50 per gigabyte of storage (purchase cost), 512 terabytes costs email providers of all stripes $256,000 just to buy enough disk storage to hold all that spam. Using the best-case numbers from Figure 2 at this Enterprise Storage Forum article, the electricity costs of 512 TB of storage for a year is another $34,689.60. That’s a total of about $300,000 that ISPs and companies paid annually this year just for the memory to store all the spam before it was deleted.

But that’s a drop in the ocean. My own personal spam filtering service, Spamcop.net costs me $30 per year. Let’s assume that the average spam blocking service costs something like $20 per year (2/3rds of what I pay), and that half of the email accounts on the planet has a spam blocker of some kind. According to Internet World Stats, there are an estimated 1,262,032,697 registered Internet users. If it costs $20 per year for each of them, that’s $12.6 billion for software filtering just to make sure you don’t have to read the spam you get every day.

When we add in the lost productivity from trojan virus-installed and overtly criminal botnets and the cost of anti-virus and firewall software, that cost jumps dramatically. According to the IT Security website, Nucleus Research has studied this issue and determined that spam costs U.S. businesses about $71.2 billion. Extending the $712 per employee cost of spam to the entire world, we end up with a global cost of $3.9 trillion.

That’s between 5.8% and 6.8% of the entire global economy (using the 2006 World Bank and 2007 IMF estimates of total global GDP, respectively). Just for businesses. Add in private individuals like myself and academic institutions and the costs would rise even more.

To be fair, I think that number $3.9 trillion is probably inflated some. But even if it’s off by 10x, that’s still $390 billion that spam is costing the global economy. That’s money that could be used for literally millions of other projects that would better humanity.

Can anyone honestly tell me that spam is adding more than $390 billion to the global economy? For that matter, can anyone honestly tell me that spam is adding more than the $71.2 billion that Nucleus Research estimates it’s costing U.S. businesses? According to Internet Filter Review, the entire global pornography industry is less than $100 billion. In 2006, the entire global pharmaceutical industry had just over $600 billion in total revenues. While I can believe that spam makes the spammers a decent living, I cannot imagine that spam revenues actually contribute significantly to these two spam-maligned industries, never mind the many other, smaller industries. It’s literally not possible that spam is responsible for 56% of the total revenues for the pornography and pharmaceutical industries.

My wish for 2008 is for the amount of spam to drop as referenced to the total number of emails sent to instead of increasing yet again. I’d love to see the total number of spam fall below last year’s 120 billion average per day, but I’ll settle for a reduction from 97.13% of all emails – a reduction in the percentage would at least show progress. And I’d like to see international efforts to effectively shut down the spam trafficking industry permanently. Jailing every known spammer for fraud and grand theft ($390 billion to $3.9 trillion stolen, remember) would be a good starting point. So would charging major spammers with crimes against humanity.

For other resources on spam, please visit the following links:
Spamhaus
Spam.abuse.net
The FTC’s official spam website
Spam.org
EU laws on spam, from Spamlaws.com

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