How to stop spam

An article from the Wall Street Journal alluded to a solution to spam that might just work.

We pay $0.37 for letters and don’t complain (much) about it. We pay for internet access, cable, power, web hosting and a host of other things. What about charging money to send e-mails?

Before you write off my idea, I’m not talking lots of money. In fact, with my solution, 99% of you would pay nothing. However, what allows spammers to thrive is their ability to send millions of e-mails for virtually nothing. What if you could send 10,000 e-mails a month for free, but after that you had to pay $0.0005 for every additional e-mail?

Most regular e-mail users would pay nothing. Those that run e-mail lists would pay some, but if you had a list of 10,000 subscribers, you could send one e-mail a day $150/month. That may seem a little steep, but with 10,000 subscribers, you would most likely be monetizing that already and $150 off the top wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Non-profit could have some sort of registration agreement to keep from having to pay, similar to US mail. Spammers would be paying $500 for every million e-mails they sent, and although I don’t know the details of how much they make from each run of a million e-mails, it would certainly add up.

I haven’t decided who would get the money. Perhaps it could be donated to a worthy cause like providing internet access to those who can’t afford it, or to feed starving children in Africa. Goodness knows there are hundreds of ways the money could be used to help others.

The method of determining how to charge people is a technical hurdle that would have to be overcome. It would be hard to track people’s e-mail usage (and could introduce privacy issues). Spammers could also open new e-mail accounts to get around the limitation, so perhaps usage could be tracked with a unique token that was anonymously tied to a user. There are several other technical issues that would need to be worked out, but it’s an intriguing proposition.

By creating a situation where spammers paid more than they were earning from spam, we could put them out of business because as we all know (but sometimes don’t like to admit), you can’t maintain such a lifestyle for very long.

Of course, another solution is to give spammers a swift kick in the patootie for every e-mail they send. That would be far more satisfying.


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  1. I think charging money for emails would be a big mistake.

    Comment by danithew on November 29, 2006 @ 1:12 pm
  2. You may be right, but would you care to elaborate on why you think that? I think allowing spam to continue unabated is a bigger mistake.

    Comment by dan on November 29, 2006 @ 3:29 pm
  3. That’s a lot of kicks in the patootie!

    Comment by Cameron on November 29, 2006 @ 8:53 pm
  4. True, but I doubt you’d have any problems finding volunteers to do the honors.

    Comment by dan on November 30, 2006 @ 6:21 am
  5. Dan, I think you are seeing into the future. The internet will one day have laws guarding and guiding it. I think internet access will cost a fraction of what it does today because the isp will profit from e-mails and other various online services.

    The home internet package of the future:

    – High speed internet, cable tv and phone service all wrapped into one provided over power lines that is 25 times faster than cable and dsl.

    – The cable tv will linked to the internet and google will provide most of the advertising on your tv (or computer).

    – Google is already developing a program that will deliver ads to you at their websites and their content network simply by listening to your surroundings through your microphone. For instance, if your tv is playing a commercial on home re-financing, these are the ads you would see on Google sites and their content network (provided that your computer has the capabilities)

    – Up to 5 e-mail addresses

    – Send up to 1,000 e-mails a month per user (every e-mail after 1,000 costs $0.01).

    – Unix or Windows web hosting with free domains.

    – Lots more features that I can’t think of.

    Business packages will be a little more beefy but the max emails per month will be increased a little and so will the cost per extra e-mails that are sent.

    Comment by chad on December 1, 2006 @ 5:42 pm
  6. Chad: I hadn’t thought it through that far, but you may be right. I’ve also heard Google’s planning to provide free wireless access That way they’ll have your geographic location and can show you local ads. It will be interesting to see how things change over time.

    Comment by dan on December 1, 2006 @ 8:30 pm
  7. Dan, sorry it took awhile for me to return and respond. Email is free now and I just don’t see any reason why that should change. If the government or some other party is allowed to charge for emails, we’ll be giving up something that many of us now consider to be a basic right. Even if the government is only allowed to charge business interests for emails, it’s giving them a path to eventually regulate and charge for all kinds of internet communications. Frankly, I don’t trust politicians to handle this kind of thing fairly and honestly. There are too many influences out there that corrupt them.

    Spam is a serious problem, but I feel the Akismet program/plugin shows one way that they can be handled responsibly without charging money.

    I also believe that savvy and conscientious programmers will continue to find means to help stem the tide.

    Comment by danithew on December 4, 2006 @ 7:20 am
  8. Dan,

    It has occurred to me that charging for emails or attempting to regulate emails through a cost-penalty (over a certain # of sent emails) would probably just encourage spammers to set up proxies or some other dodge that would allow them to avoid paying. It’s the honest people would would end up having to pay, not the spammers.

    Comment by danithew on December 4, 2006 @ 7:46 am
  9. Danithew: Thanks for the reply.

    I completely agree that regulation would be a key part of making the program successful, but I don’t think the government would be the best organization to manage it, nor do I agree that e-mail is free. The servers and bandwidth have to be paid for by someone, which is why Google and Yahoo (and every other free mail provider) have advertising which pay the bills so you don’t have to pay cash, just like radio stations.

    I think ISPs or web hosting companies would be prime candidates to manage payments, because you’re already paying them for internet connections or web hosting, and there are already additional expenses due to bandwidth or disk usage. Since they already have everything in place to handle billing and track e-mail usage, and they are a concentrated group that has to deal spam, so they stand to benefit significantly from the demise it.

    I agree with your concerns about having honest people having to pay, but it would be kind of hard to sneak 1,000,000 e-mails past the guys who are managing the servers. :)

    Comment by dan on December 4, 2006 @ 10:51 am

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