back to article McAfee: Save the planet - use a spam filter

Spam is more than a nuisance - it's damaging to the environment, according to net security firm McAfee. McAfee reasons junk email contributes to green house gas emissions because of the computer resources allocated to processing unwanted messages. Annual spam uses the equivalent electricity of 2.4m US homes or creates the …


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  1. Steven
    Thumb Down

    As much as I hate spam...

    ...if theres one thing I hate more, it's people trying to blame everything but the kitchen sink for global warming. Wonder how much carbon was burnt doing that pointless report?

  2. Dapprman

    Does this mean ...

    McAfee will stop all their spam emails that result from stopping using their products, or the spam renewal notices when you still have months left of your licence ?

  3. Matthew
    Thumb Down


    So none of the power comes from green sources such as nuclear power or hydro plants or wind power?

    I think for the average modern dual/quad core PC the amount of processing power is negligible, especially since many people use laptops these days.

    Plus, how much CPU does a spam filter use?

    This sounds as believable as the "apple tax"

  4. John Macintyre
    Thumb Down

    google translator?

    "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."

    BS Translation: "Buy our products and you'll do the world a favour".

    Great marketing. If they suggested products that weren't just theirs maybe people would take them seriously? Come on, it seems everyone's sales pitch at the moment is buy more stuff from us and you'll do the world a favour. No, I'll just give you loads of cash and you'll laugh all the way to the golf range.

    I agree reducing spam would be a good thing, god knows the amount of postmaster bounces I send out from one of my mailservers from spam addresses, but I'm not in a position to spend a fortune on high end products, and I'm not a globo-corp, so I need smaller/cheaper solutions. Yes I'm investigating a few at the moment.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Better idea

    1) We hunt down the spammers, AND the idiots that buy their products.

    2) Batter them to death (using eco-friendly wooden clubs).


    3) Render their corpses into biofuel?

  7. Ros

    A public information campaign?

    It's surprising what people don't know. A public information campaign about good email hygiene might be quite effective. They could throw in something about avoiding phishing as well, and put it on primetime TV.

    But here I am suggesting the govt. do something useful, and something that would demonstrate the slightest degree of technical awareness. That's absurd. Who has been spiking my coffee?

  8. Andy Silver badge

    Good idea

    "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."

    Yes. But that's not what McAfee's filtering thingy does, is it? Just preventing the recipient from seeing the spam doesn't stop it being sent in the first place.

    We need to cut the spammers' goolies off. It's the only answer.


  9. Codge


    > McAfee's study recalls a January survey that suggests two Google searches take up a similar energy consumption as does boiling a kettle.

    Hmmm... 2Kw/hr kettle, say 5 mins to boil = 166W

    My laptop will run for nearly three hours on that amount of power! What are Google running on? Coal and steam?

    Oh wait, the report is from a firm flogging anti-spam software. What a surprise!

    Move along please. Nothing to see here. Move along now.

    Tux. Just 'coz.

  10. DR

    save the planet... buy our software

    my estimations of spam filtering software is that none are 100% accurate.

    some spam always gets through. and you still need a cursory glance at your spam folder to make sure nothing important has been deleted.

    humans are much better at detecting spam than machines.

    so by my reckoning, it uses more time, to read all emails that get through, (and deleting false negatives that the spam filter doesn't pick up) and then check the spam folder, (deleting all the true positives and reading all the false positives that the spam filter thought was spam).

    and in this survey we're suggesting that time = energy...

    so in *some cases*, using spam filtering software consumes more energy, and more time. and thus has a greater environmental effect.

    Note the emphasis on some cases.

  11. JimC

    Environmental cost of spam...

    Notoriously difficult to quantify - sure, and these are largely finger in the air best guess estimates. But I am damn sure that if there were no spam we'd need rather less in the way of email capacity and lower powered incoming mail servers consuming less power...

  12. Ben Tasker

    One thing

    So using a Spam filter will cut down on these emissions?

    But, the filters themselves will absorb power, even for e-mails that aren't spam. So where is the benefit? Ok so the spam will go through less servers (depending on where you install the filter) but the environmental gains have to be minimal.

  13. Gary Turner

    What a crock

    The world would benefit from increased concentrations of CO₂, even if it has some small part in warming the planet, which would also be beneficial to life.

  14. Richard Cain

    e=m*c [squared]

    e = volume of emails

    m = desperation of marketing departments

    c = crap

  15. Jim Noeth

    What a waste

    Who wants to believe a study funded by a company who sells a product that the study shows to be invaluable? Sounds like marketing to me. When they can sell a spam filter that is guaranteed not to throw away the good with the bad, then, maybe I'd be interested. And, not noted is that the environmental foot print of email spam is trivial compared to the footprint of snail mail spam.

  16. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Fumes from a bad argument

    Filters DON'T work. The cost of attacking a spam filter is absolutely zero because spammers are using stolen resources. A bigger spam filter is more wasted energy.

    Want to help the spam problem? Jail the spammers and blacklist crime-friendly networks. Credit card companies should refuse theft compensation to customers stupid enough to have given their personal data to illegal online stores (controlled drugs, counterfeits, etc.). It's not a perfect solution but it's better.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    ...And can you imagine

    All the global warming caused from the flatulence of the telemarketers?

    And don't even get me started on the people who push 20 identical takeaway menus through your door in one day.

  18. James O'Brien

    @Stike Vomit

    "1) We hunt down the spammers, AND the idiots that buy their products.

    2) Batter them to death (using eco-friendly wooden clubs).


    3) Render their corpses into biofuel?"

    Dont forget these:

    4) ???

    5) Profit!!!

  19. Anonymous Coward

    I'd rather them go after the spamers...

    ...But then again McAfee wouldn't make a dime on it.

    I'm finding that the spam filters are getting so hungry, that they're deleting legitimate emails... :( It's getting rather annoying.

  20. plega
    Paris Hilton

    elephants ?

    The canonical measure for carbon footprints is polar bears, as any fule kno. As in, "mandatory green light bulbs in the UK would save 2,000 Polar Bears".

    Who but Paris ?

  21. Karl Rasmusson

    Utter nonsense

    Is McAfee serious, or have you published an April Fool's Day story a couple of weeks late?

    How pray tell, does the spammer turn on PC's to do this? FFS, the PC is already on and consuming power!

    McAfee has obviously learned from the social engineering tricks of the spammers, mixed global warming and spam, and produced "believable" crap.

  22. Joey

    Even better idea...

    Treadmills. Spammers (and any other type of miscreant you care to choose) should be made to walk on an electricity generating treadmill for X hours. Treadmills should be installed in all penal institutions (and schools) and the nerdowells made to work off their debts to society by generating eco-friendly electricity.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    How much extra power is required keeping the McAfee process running permanently? How about those extra network calls for updating the detection rules? And how much of this otherwise idle time it eats through could be compensated for by dropping the processor clock a little, thereby resulting in lower power consumption...

    Hint: It's probably going to be more than the cost of rendering a spam file every now and then...

  24. The Fuzzy Wotnot


    Surely you only stop it when it arrives and you delete it or refuse to download it, it has still been generated and sent from the scumbags, crossed the the inner-tubes and arrived at your ISP's mailboxes?

    So how does running a local anti-spam filter on your PC save the planet clever-clogs?

  25. TeeCee Gold badge

    Just out of interest.

    Anyone know what the carbon footprint is of burning a spammer at the stake? Do the numbers stack up to make this source of amusement a worthwhile exercise?

  26. David Pollard

    Is there a term yet like greendirting or envirotarnish?

    'Greenwashing' has been used for a while to describe the promotion of products or services with a largely spurious claim that they are green. Is there a similar word that means the opposite, to describe the denigration of processes and practices as un-green?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Shooting yourself in the foot

    "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."

    So really the message is to the ISPs. They need authentication before they accept any outgoing emails. Then if anyone sent spam, the ISP would know *exactly* who it was. Spammers couldn't rely on SMTP security (or the lack of it).

    ....and if this happened (and people have been promoting it as a solution since the mid-90's) then McAfee would have a hell of a lot less spam to filter. Then their profits would collapse!

  28. Anonymous Coward

    spam spam spam spam

    To my mind using a spam filter will have the opposite effect on "global warming". As already pointed out - the spam filter doesn't stop spam, it just stops someone seeing (97% of) it. It still gets sent, still generates traffic (I'll assume this is where their power consumption figures happen).

    However, global adoption of spam filters just mean that return rates on messages fall - for arguments sake say it's 1m spam emails sent, to 1 phish on the hook. Spam filters will drive that figure to 10m spam emails sent, to 1 phish on the hook. To maintain the same levels of return, the spammers need to step up their output - driving up power consumption again.

    Of course they may be simply working out how much time is spent dealing with spam (say an hour if no filter exists) and saying this is wasted energy. BS. If I get an hour of my working day back, I'd just go home an hour early and switch the TV, heating/AC on an hour earlier and increase my consumption that way.

    In fact, I think this comments section is causing global warming. I'm going to switch the computer off, go home and do a bit of navel gazing - that'll reduce my carbon footprint, right?

  29. Nameless Faceless Computer User

    Back in the day...

    Back in the day, spammers touted they were saving the environment. Their slogan was, Save the trees.

  30. Wortel

    "McAfee: Save the planet - kill yourself"

    "..buying our products."

    Oh wait..

    Meanwhile in the real world, people use excellent, freely available products like Untangle ( on simple hardware (or even a virtual machine on existing hardware) to keep the smelly meat by-products off of their corporate networks.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How much carbon does it take me to not give a...

    Why has everything got to be measured by how much carbon it produces now?

    Next the Vatican will be releasing a report about the carbon footprint of jerking off. It's ridiculous.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    I'm shocked, just shocked!!!

    That a spam filter company would pay a shill to write a bogus report that concludes people should buy more spam filters. What's next? Microsoft paying a shill to write a bogus report claiming people buy over priced Apple computers because they think it makes them cool?!??!?!

  33. Acme Fixer

    It's just staggering...

    We are getting typically 93 percent of our emails as spam; only 7 percent is legit. Those are the ones that don't manage to slip through our Pure Message(R) spam filter, but the percentage of spam that slips through is low, so the actual number is not that much more than 93 percent.

    It's just staggering how much poo spammers sling at the email inboxes in the hope that some of it gets through and ends up as a 'hit' - a purchase of something usually worthless or illegal. What's not even mentioned is how much wasted time has to be spent by human beings dealing with this scourge, but I'm sure that it far outweighs the energy usage and is far more harmful.

    But the real tragedy is that the growth of the Internet -- servers and bandwidth -- has had to be increased by so much percentage to keep up with the deluge of spam, and if spam had not been such a deluge, I'm sure that the providers and customers would bave been able to save billions or trillions of dollars.

    It makes you wonder why the email system was not just scrapped and replaced by something else: a web based system or whatever, like the old BBS systems had.

    Whatever became of the solutions offered years ago? Like the 'Penny Black' or whatever it was called. Every "solution" seems to have been sidestepped by the spammers.

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