Increasing transactions costs for e-mail, redux…

There’s another round of discussion going on post-FOOCamp about combatting spam by increasing transaction costs for e-mail. I’m not going to get too involved in it, because I’ve had many of the arguments before – most often with the lovely Cory Doctorow, but in a nutshell, my position is that there are many situations in online life where the effective removal of marginal cost has created problems in handling massive the subsequent massive amounts of abuse that such systems are prone too. I’m not convinced that building in restrictions into e-mail is particularly desirable, but there are lots of other situations where creating artificial scarcity and building-in increasing marginal costs (even if they are only in effort) might have significant positive impacts.

Here’s some of the older posts I’ve written on these subjects:

3 replies on “Increasing transactions costs for e-mail, redux…”

The problem I just can’t see a way around is how to introduce such a system? People who receive email will have to agree to only receive email that has been paid for, or to treat all other email as spam. This, I suppose, really means that hotmail and yahoo, of the public providers, at least, and exchange, have to adopt this system. I’m assuming users of sendmail, qmail etc. will quickly adopt various filtering solutions without a centralized system. Without this you’re not really solving the problem for most users. Then you have to somehow make it possible for people to pay for email. Transaction costs for credit card payments means you’d probably have to buy “email stamps” in blocks costing at least $10. How is a stamp affixed to an email? How do you frank the stamps so that a single stamp can’t be used more than once What about mailing lists? For mailing lists perhaps the people who want to receive messages from the list have to provide some sort of stamp to the list. I think the overall idea is sound, unfortunately the devil is in the details, and that’s the bit people always seem to skip.

Assuming that there problems in charging for email will be solved, this won’t stop spam anyway since spam will be sent from hacked machines.
Mass mailing has always existed in the standard postal system where there is a greater cost, so increasing costs won’t eliminate the problem. In fact, it might be argued that if spam is paid for, then it will legitimise spam.

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