American Culture

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

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, 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:
The FTC’s official spam website
EU laws on spam, from

13 replies »

  1. Pingback:
  2. I think I’d vote for a presidential candidate who promised to push legislation making spam a federal crime, with a first offense resulting in a year of hard time. Then propose how we;re going to handle the stuff originating overseas. I have ideas, but I may not be the most level-headed guy on the subject. I mean, if you proposed the death penalty you might talk me into it…

  3. According to Sophos Labs (via InfoNIAC), 28.4% of all spam came from the U.S., 5.46x the next closest country for spam volume, South Korea. This is because we have a VERY permissive regulatory environment, with opt-out requirements instead of opt-in, “free speech” issues that are wrongly applied to spam, and lax enforcement.

    This is one of those areas where I just don’t understand why the country doesn’t get it. It’s not like spammers are “entrepreneurs” – they’re nearly all criminals. And even the “clean” ones are only clean by U.S. standards – why aren’t the EU nations demanding we extradite spammers? And if they are, why the hell aren’t we complying?

    I can’t imagine that spammers have enough economic heft to offset the political might of the software industry, the aerospace industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, et al.

  4. There’s a bit of irony here – this post has already attracted a larger number of comment and trackback spam than the average S&R post.

  5. Are you people crazy ? Spam should never be a crime. It’s speech. If you outlaw spam you are against free speech and that in itself is a crime against humanity.

  6. And the $390 billion that you’d save by ending spam would just go to increasing CEO salaries as usual. The US economy is not about bettering humanity, it’s about making the rich richer, and the powerful more powerful, because they own the economy and we are the surfs.

  7. Legislation to make it a federal crime? FUCK THAT. We already have laws on the books. How about ENFORCEMENT?

    Make it legal to declare open season on spammers and post a bounty on their heads (I realize the irony that this will require a new law despite what I said above but, you know…)

    Every year, we’ll have duck season, deer season, and the Wily Spotted Spammer season. Go out, get your tags, grab your semi-automatic rifle and go a sportin’ and a firin’!

    Track down those pesky spammers, fill them up with lead, and then bring them to the local paper to get a photo of you posing with your dead spammer carcass for the proper accolades.

    Spam problem gone.

  8. First, as I’ve said in other contexts, spam is not speech, just as a brick with an attached note thrown through a window is not publication. It’s abuse — as we’ve known for roughly 25 years at this point.

    Second, while the economic costs are obviously enormous, there are also
    human costs. For example, the time required to access, read and dispose of spam might only be a few seconds per spam — but multiply by the total volume of spam evading blocks/filters, and even conservative estimates indicate that a single medium-volume spam run consumes more than the equivalent of a human lifetime. For another example, poorly-designed and poorly-implemented anti-spam measures (which covers a LOT of ground,
    unfortunately) impose delays on non-spam traffic, lose some of it, “quarantine” some of it, redirect some of it, and so on. And for yet another example, some *very* poorly-designed anti-spam measures (e.g., challenge/response,
    callbacks) actually make the spam problem much worse — consuming
    still more precious human time.

    It really is a pity that there are still people who don’t recognize this, and
    who don’t recognize the close connections between spam, spyware, adware,
    viruses, worms, phishing, identity theft, and other abuses. I can only
    hope that they manage to properly educate themselves before they’re
    the victims of some of these more serious problems.

  9. This is not a free speech issue. Free speech is a constitutional issue involving, in my case anyway, freedom from the actions of the US government if I communicate something they do not like. That is important and serious right under our Bill of Rights. I still don’t have the right to demand that say, The New Yorker Magazine, publishes one of my stories or run an ad for free. Some of you people are just dopes. 😦
    Here’s another way that idiots wrongly and commonly complain that their so-called lack of “free speech.”:
    I once talked to some odious guy at the DMV, a retired pastor (he claimed) who, in earshot of a black woman, complained loudly that his “free speech” was threatened because he had to be too careful about what he said about African Americans. In fact, it is not the government that is giving him the pressure, it is other people in society — he has no freedom either from people giving him bad looks if he picks his nose in public.
    So, you dopes. A bunch of scoundrels are making a buck off you and me. This is not a “free speech” issue any more than if I demand the right to tatoo an ad for http://www.cheapcondoms on your forehead! Holy F***ing God, put down the frigging bong and think!

  10. One way to do enforcement (and we should not have to) is PEER PRESSURE. People must be buying goods and services that are spamertised. (spam + advertised) Do you know anyone who has — get on their case! Make it clear to your friends and associates that anyone buying goods and services that are advertised in spam is wrong.
    I agree that the laws are on the books and not enough is done in enforcement BUT you can’t live by laws alone — you can’t control say, theft, by laws it needs at the same time, social disapproval and children brought up correctly! Laws are to control normal people at weak moments and to control psychopaths. QUick justice based on existing laws would help a lot. But there are not enough police or jail cells to control a society — I know this is a scary though for the law-and-order crowd but we are not actually held together mainly by laws. You also can’t run a society without penalties for offenders. But, when employing THE LAW: The quicker and the more certain the justice, the more effective it is.

  11. Speaking of dopes, I hope there really isn’t a website called that (cheapcondoms)! I made it up. With my luck I just advertised a spammer! 🙂 You may edit as needed.