You might think spam messages are, at best, an eyesore. At worst, it’s an irritating productivity drain. After all, as long as you delete or leave them alone, you’re free to go on your merry way, right?
As it turns out, spam is more insidious than most people realize. Aside from boosting your chances of installing malware on your computer or getting scammed by a supposed Nigerian prince, spam is also tied to one of the biggest issues in recent years: global warming.
The Lowdown On Spam
It’s hard to determine how much spam actually exists, because it fluctuates wildly on a day-to-day basis. However, Trend Micro calculated that the daily volume of unwanted emails hovered between 50 and 150 billion since January 2015, peaking at 182 billion last May.
The regions with the highest spam rates include Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East and South/Southeast Asia. The United States reported a 43 percent spam rate. Small compared to the rest of the world, but still significant.
As for the biggest source of spam, it depends on what publication you’re reading. The SpamHaus Project, for example, names the U.S. as the country with the largest number of live spam issues. The U.S is followed by China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Japan. Kaspersky Lab, on the other hand, rounds up the top 5 of Q1/2016 as follows: the U.S., Vietnam, India, Brazil and China, respectively.
Regardless of which fact is true, one thing’s for sure: Companies are a particularly annoying source of unwanted emails. For instance, Unroll.Me, an app that helps you cut email subscriptions, put together an annual list that details the top 15 biggest senders of spam. Disturbingly enough, the 2015 list comprised up of household names like Facebook (310 emails per user per year), Twitter (173), Victoria’s Secret (160), LinkedIn (157), Kohl’s (154), Banana Republic (145), Gap (139), Old Navy (137) and Target (120).
The numbers don’t look like much on their own. Look closer at spam’s effects on you and the world around you. It clearly becomes an undeniable danger.
How Spam Affects You
If you work for a small or medium business (SMB), you probably spend around 29 minutes a day clearing out your inbox. It may not seem like much. Then you do the math and realize that your company is actually losing over 100 hours of productivity every year per employee!
Also, receiving a ton of spam usually indicates that your online account’s been compromised. What if your inbox is suddenly flooded with 60,000 messages within 24 hours (yes, it actually happens)? Someone’s probably trying to distract you from notifications that your account is being used without your permission.
Lastly, spam can compromise your health too, even if only indirectly. Every time you rage at your computer or phone because of a Viagra email, you triple your chances of getting a heart attack. (Unless you actually purchased the Viagra, of course. No judgement here.)
How Spam Affects the Environment
It’s not only your health, productivity and security that suffer because of spam messages. Even if you don’t open the messages, receiving them can release 0.3 gCO2e into the environment. That, multiplied by the 95 trillion spam emails sent in 2010, can generate enough energy to drive around the world two million times!
Looking at the data, you have to ask: How can virtual spam inflict so much damage on our very real planet Earth? The answer lies in how computers were — and still are — being made.
The manufacture, use and disposal of ICT contribute two percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Equivalent to that generated by the entire aviation industry. According to antivirus software developer McAfee, the trillions of spam messages sent every year can power two million homes. Oh and release enough greenhouse gases to rival that of three million cars. This information is from almost seven years ago. Can you imagine the state of the atmosphere now?
Why Spam Is So Common
Surely, major corporations are aware of the grim numbers, whether they believe in environmental sustainability or not. They’re also well-aware that customers would rather not receive the digital equivalents of cockroaches on their dinner — so why do they do it?
Answer: Because it’s easy, free and effective. If you send 100 messages asking 100 customers to buy 5-dollar cupcakes, and only two of them responded, you can make $10. Assuming a constant response rate of two percent, you can send 200 messages and earn $20, 300 messages and earn $30, and so on. And if you’d go as far as purchasing CDs containing millions of valid e-mail addresses, the possibilities are endless.
What Has Been Done About Spam
Former president George W. Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 to keep marketing emails under control. Likewise, tech bigwigs like Google and Yahoo have been at the forefront of “green IT.” It requires them to incorporate renewable energy into their data centers, among other practices.
What You Can Do About Spam
Most people wouldn’t watch helplessly when hordes of unwanted messages pour into their inboxes like Genghis Khan’s armies. In fact, at least 63 percent of email users have a spam filter installed. 29 percent avoid giving out their email address altogether. And 19 percent were savvy enough to create separate addresses specifically to receive spam.
Aside from these common-sense measures, you can also:
- Stay Alert for Telltale Signs of Spam. If the message seems too good to be true or shows any other sign of a phishing email, proceed to the next step.
- Spam the “Report Spam” Button. Even if you have a spam filter installed, some unwanted messages can still bypass them. To prevent or minimize this, hit the “Report Spam” button as often as you can. The more you do this, the better your email will be at filtering those messages.
- Unsubscribe Ruthlessly. Let’s say you’re subscribed to a blog that no longer puts out interesting content. Instead of waiting for their newsletters to clog up your inbox, click the “Unsubscribe” button. It’s usually located at the bottom of the email in tiny print. You can always re-subscribe later.
- Use Pluses and Dots When Signing Up Your Gmail. If you use Gmail and don’t want to go through the hassle of creating a new address just to avoid spam, insert pluses or dots anywhere in your username.
For example, if your email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you want to sign up for an unknown site, you can type it as email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Although this trick won’t prevent you from receiving spam on its own, it can allow you to filter messages sent to the modified email address.
What the World Would (Probably) Look Like Without Spam
Spam is common and email is entrenched in modern life. It’s hard to imagine a world without both of them. If you could add 100 hours to your annual productivity, reduce email-based security hazards and health risks, and give the environment time to breathe and recover, it’d be a welcomed change.