Have you ever noticed how almost all of the computer virus hysteria in the press is a product of anti-virus companies’ PR?

It looks like McAfee is trying to drum up anti-spam business now:

A report being released Wednesday by security company McAfee Inc. finds that spammers are a scourge to your inbox and the environment, generating an astounding 62 trillion junk e-mails in 2008 that wasted enough electricity to power 2.4 million U.S. homes for a year.

McAfee says it takes users about three seconds to view and delete a spam message. Although most spam doesn’t get through because of sophisticated spam filters, people spend a lot of time - 100 billion user-hours per year - dealing with the messages that do land in inboxes, McAfee estimates.

Maybe it’s just me, but those two numbers–2.4 million houses worth of power and 100 billion user-hours per year–both strike me as laughably stupid.

I did a bit of digging, and it looks like “uses the same power as 1,000 houses” claims invariably use 1 kW per house as their metric. So, McAfee is suggesting that spam uses 2.4 GW of electricity. That’s impressively massive, and equal to about 13 of 1% of the electrical capacity of the US in 2007. Even better, it’s about half of what Pingdom claims that US datacenters consumed last year.

Even if the US has only 1/5th of the world’s datacenters, that’d still mean that 10% of the world’s datacenter power was spent on spam. Which seems unlikely.

Even better, the 100 billion user-hours per year number is just insane. Estimates suggest that there are a bit over 1 billion email users, world-wide. If every single one of them have the same spam load, then each user would spend 100 hours per year dealing with spam. That’s 2.5 weeks of 40 hour/week work time, or around 5% of the work year. The it looks like the average US worker gets around 13 vacation days per year, which suggests that they spend nearly as much time deleting spam as they do vacationing.

I don’t know why I read articles like this. They leave me mad every time.