December 31, 2003

A Free Market Solution to SPAM

Rule One: don’t joke about SPAM. I left a flippant comment on Samizdata to Dale Amon, one of Samizdata’s great stable of bloggers. I got a terse response, in the comments section; “Obviously a person who does not receive one thousand spam emails a day.” No, I’m in the 150 per-diem-club, but I still feel your pain.

I have a solution and a business opportunity for someone. The ideal candidate would be a hosting company that’s dying from the current overcapacity. I am busy so this idea is herby put in the public domain. Put me on your “Friends and Family” list when you IPO.

The SPAM problem is the traditional economic commons problem. Free worldwide email is a wonderful thing, friends and neighbors, but it provides an intractable SPAM problem. If two people in a million buy my home-labeled VI@GR@ or P*NI^S ENLARGEMENT, than it is an equitable proposition to send out 100 million SPAM messages.

People complain about Junk Mail as well. Or they used to before there was SPAM – who complains about junk mail anymore? Junk mail is swell. It’s not pornographic (maybe I have the wrong ZIP code), it’s annoying but generally manageable, and it does not threaten to shut down the benefits of Postal delivery. Junk mail can be kept to an acceptable level by market forces. The Post Office can raise of lower rates to control the amount. I think that can be added to email.

My buddy, Dale, is “throwing his hat in the ring” for the National Space Society Board of Directors. He wants to use email to contact members to sign a nomination petition in the last weeks before it is due. The problem is that he has to sort through the thousand SPAM messages to find the messaged he wants that are not “whitelisted.” Whitelisting is accepting email only from those you have explicitly authorized, or as they say in Northern Ireland, authorised.

Here is the plan. Set up a “trusted relay” that charges the sender; then get frustrated SPAM recipients to whitelist your server. Free market forces take care of the rest.

Here’s my example. I set up my mailbox (I will leave Dale alone as I don’t know him, I respect him, and he is already mad at me for my stupid comment). I set up my mailbox to accept only mail from people in my address book and from “Joe’s Trusted Relay Service.”

Now, all my friends can email me because they are whitelisted. Somebody who wants to reach me can pay Joe’s the nickel or dime he charges. A business can contract with Joe’s to send to real email addresses and get through. If Joe’s sends me too much junk I don’t like, I will stop accepting from him and will sign up with Fred’s. Fred charges a little more, so I get less junk. Market forces now enable senders and receivers to control SPAM volume. And the first to drop out will be the shysters and purveyors of illegal products.

I also get the chance to pay a dime to write a popular journalist or blogger and have more confidence that my message will be received. Maybe a magazine will whitelist subscribers and bloggers will whitelist those who donate. I’ve created a new business, a solution to an intractable problem, and the new, international currency of whitelisted email.

Of course, the free system is still there for everyone who wants it. Let me know what you think of this idea – of course, it’ll cost you a dime to email your suggestion to jk@joespaytoplayemail.com. Cheers!

Last time: Mr. Schumpeter, Call Your Office!

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