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.