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Ask us: Getting rid of junk e-mail

Tanya Ha answers your questions about the best ways to avoid your email inbox getting clogged-up with irritating spam.

I find junk mail annoying and I know it's not green, so I've done the letterbox sticker thing and pretty much stopped the flow of paper junk mail. My current pet hate is
junk email. I'm sick of spam and newsletters I didn't subscribe to. I don't know if it's an environmental problem or not, but it really is irritating and time-wasting. So, what can
I do about it?
– Tania Taylor, Towradgi, NSW.

online-junk-e-mail

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Junk email – along with the whole use of computers, the internet, electronic media and the plethora of LOLcats – is an environmental problem, and a growing one as our digital life expands and more people go online.

On the positive side environmentally, computers can improve resource and labour productivity and enable work by telecommuting. And electronic versions of software, music and documents can reduce the use of material resources.

On the negative side, the use of electronic media is consuming increasingly more electricity. Even if your computer is running on GreenPower or electricity from rooftop solar panels, you can’t assume the same for the computers and servers used to write, send and store email and spam. It’s highly likely this internet activity is coming at a significant carbon cost, considering the International Energy Agency estimates that
67.4 per cent of the world’s electricity generation in 2010 came from greenhouse polluting fossil fuels.

According to the WebpageFX blog, 95 trillion spam emails were sent in 2010, producing 28.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Some of this spamming was stopped in its tracks by filtering efforts, without which the greenhouse emissions of spam would be 270 per cent more!

How it’s done

Spammers harvest email addresses from the internet using software that downloads the content of entire websites and searches that content for email addresses. Some speculatively make up email addresses matched to domain names, such as admin@website.com.au or info@website.com.au.

What you can do

- With email newsletters, it’s easy: they’re required to have an ‘unsubscribe’ link to click. This also makes them easy to manage, as you can set up a folder for anything with the word ‘unsubscribe’ to go directly into using filters or rules (you can even send them straight to the bin this way).

- Internet security 101: use spam filtering or junk mail management software, along with up-to-date antivirus software and firewall protection. This is particularly important if you’re using a PC; Macs tend to be less vulnerable.

- Never respond to spam email. You’ll confirm your email address as a real, legitimate one and receive yet more spam. Note that auto-replies, such as ‘out of office’ messages, might automatically reply to spam as well as genuine emails.

- Avoid publicising your email address on a website. If you run a company and you want potential contacts or customers to email you via your website, use a contact form.