Monthly Archives July 2013

The Spam Solution – Premium Service Providers

Category: Technology

 No one likes Spam(citation needed).  It seems like no matter what countermeasures are employed, Spam is the inevitable result of owning an e-mail address.  I remember purchasing this domain name (, and creating a new e-mail with it, and being completely spam free for years.  In then end, they found me.  The bots, the spammers, the scammers, whoever they are.  I could try moving my domain name, my e-mail address.  Staying one step ahead of the shady underbelly of the prescription medicine advertising market, but what is the point?  So I decided not to run from it.

I could try to defend my domain, install more spam filtering programs, or filter my e-mail through gmail or other services.  They do a great job of catching the junk.  But even the best services leak a small percentage of junk through, and a small percentage of spam is still dozens of e-mails a week.  Let’s say the filter is able to catch them all, it will surely catch one or two legitimate e-mails, which is worse than letting through a hundred spam.  Especially for businesses that rely on e-mail communication as mission critical to replace all other correspondences.  The risk isn’t worth it. 

So how do we calculate what spam is worth?  Luckily, there are a considerable number of math nerds out there who love to analyze this exact problem.  So I will close the calculator app and warm up the copy/paste keys.  A few years ago in mid 2010, spam hit an all time high, with 225 billion e-mails sent per day.  Fortunately, that number has been reduced dramatically, and is now holding at about 40 billion e-mails per day.  The number is likely too large to mean anything tangible, so let me try to put it into perspective.  Let’s print each spam e-mail that is sent to paper.  It would only take 19 seconds before the paper stack reaches the height of Mount Everest.  If everyone has exactly 1 e-mail address and receives an even amount of spam, we are talking 6 spam messages a day.  Not too bad, but by looking at my inbox, I don’t think everyone is bearing the same load that I am.

So now we know how much spam there is.  What is the cost?  There are a few different ways to measure that.  First, let’s assume that every spam e-mail is trapped by the spam filter.  Problem solved, right?  Wrong.  The e-mail is still being transmitted across the internet.  Using routers, bandwidth, clock cycles, energy.  How much power does one e-mail use?  Not much.  How much power does all the spam in a year use?  Apparently enough to power 2.4 million homes all year according to this abcnews article (  Power isn’t free, and I am not talking about money.  The power used to send spam in one year can generate 17 million metric tons of CO2 emmissions, which accounts for 2% of the total global emmissions.  Unfortunately spam wastes more than just power, it also wastes our time.  The most recent estimate says the spam likely sucks about $50 billion dollars out of productivity.  That is the entire GDP of Guatemala.  Maybe the rest of the world can just hire the entire workforce of Guatemala to filter our spam for us?

I have another solution.  One that is simple, and will eliminate virtually all spam.  The reason spam is so popular is because it costs nothing to those who generate it.  This article ( suggests that the cost of spam to the sender is $0.00001 per message.  The spammer literally just needs one sucker in millions to turn a profit.  If each e-mail cost a fraction of a cent more, the profit margin would plummet, and spammers would have to find a new creative outlet.  This is not a new idea, but it is one that has not seriously been taken into consideration.  Instead of spending millions on government programs to track down spammers and shut down their operation, which never seems to leave a dent in the overall yearly spam numbers, we could eradicate all spam, and it would only cost a few cents to the individual.

Let’s talk logistics.  How do we begin charging for a service that is completely free.  One option is government intervention.  If lawmakers wanted to tackle this problem, or generate some additional revenue, they could pass an e-mail tax.  I imagine this would be very unpopular, but it would get the job done.  Another option is to have a company, someone established in the e-mail game, who wanted to take on the spam problem.  Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft come to mind as popular service providers that currently offer free e-mail services.  They could continue to offer their free e-mail service, but also introduce a new domain (, the p is for premium for example).  If you opt in to this premium service any e-mails that you send to an @pmail domain would cost $0.0001, or some other extremely small number.  Additionally, the owner of the e-mail account can “whitelist” e-mail addresses which will not be charged when e-mail is received from that address.  Let’s say an individual sent 50 e-mails a day to non whitelist addresses, which would be high for a non business account, the e-mail hosting would cost less than $20 a YEAR.  That is a manageable number for the services provided.  Since the fees are so low, there would likely need to be a minimum to manage the account.

How would users with non premium accounts get billed when sending e-mails to a premium account?  Again, if you are e-mailing a close contact, they just need to whitelist your e-mail and you won’t get charged the per e-mail price.  Otherwise, upon e-mailing a premium e-mail account, an automatic bounce back response would be sent to their e-mail notifying them that they need to register an account, linked to a payment method.  The user could register their e-mail, payment method, and information about their e-mail habits to prevent unauthorized sending (such as allowed IP address ranges, max e-mails a day, etc.).

What is the likelihood this will happen?  Probably not too good right now, considering the low amount of buzz on this topic.  But the plan above seems like it would be low risk for an established e-mail provider, such as Google to get into.  If the project fails, would it be any worse than Google Wave?  However, if the project takes off, a business like Google could find another avenue to monetize a service that is currently being funded primarily through unpopular obtrusive ads.  Being the first in the game would likely invite a huge number of new users and power in the next generation of e-mail communication.  Not to mention saving a rain forest or two and my sanity in the process.

Read More