The Cost of Spam

Friday, June 6th, 2003

I just had an interesting thought: every now and then I hear somebody mention that spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) costs a lot of money. Somebody usually dismisses this claim, saying “I just delete it.” In other words, they don't think of it as being more than a minor annoyance, and don't see a cost.

I get more spam than a lot of people, just because I've had my e-mail address for a long time. I do my best to make sure it doesn't get posted on web sites or newsgroups, and I almost never give it to businesses, but spammers have found it anyway, and passed it around among themselves. At this point I get close to 100 spam messages per day, and with time I expect the number to go up (the total amount of spam being sent on the Internet is increasing exponentially, according to studies I've heard about).

So let's say it takes five seconds to recognized and delete one message. That's not really significant, is it? But if you do the math, for someone who receives 100 per day, at minimum wage it works out to over $300 per year!

Fortunately I don't actually spend five seconds on each message; I use various filtering techniques. Still, it does take up my time, and of course the real cost of spam is actually in the behind-the-scenes stuff that normal people never see. Large Internet Service Providers employ teams of people just to fight spam, and since over half of all e-mail sent on the Internet is spam, they have to buy bigger mail servers and more bandwidth. Those costs are passed on to their customers.

So, even if you only get one per week, remember that spam really is a serious problem for some of us, and it is indirectly costing you money even if you don't see it.