CentMail: Is pay-per-email the way to combat spam?

Will pay-per-email work if it is for charity?

Will pay-per-email work if it is for charity?

A recent article over at New Scientist is helping renew discussion over the idea of a pay-per-email system, in particular CentMail from Yahoo! Research.  The idea is that by donating 1c to charity each time you send an email, spamming will become uneconomic and thus fall out of favour if the service is used widely enough.  Given that over 90% of email sent currently can be classified as spam, anything that can be done to help combat it is surely something worth considering.

To be honest, I’ve always been quite against the idea of paying for email.  This is mainly because it often smacks of corporate profiteering.  However, given the charitable nature of this initiative I am far more intrigued and excited by the idea.  When you consider the fact that much of our day-to-day personal communication is now occuring through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, email is increasingly becoming a domain purely for formal and business interactions.  Having such communication benefit charitable causes would be a fantastic outcome if implemented correctly.  This shift in how we communicate would also mean that you would not have to pay to tell your friends just how hung-over you are from the night before (although paying 1c to charity in such an instance may not be such a bad idea!).

The problem, of course, comes from seeing just how well it is implemented.  Without a wide enough userbase the impact on spam may be negligable to say the least.  In addition to this, the article has a quote from an individual at IBM who states that some people may not feel comfortable receiving emails that are supporting causes they do not agree with.  In practice, if CentMail (or any other service like it) decides to forgoe any support for political or religious charities I think that many of these problems can be circumvented.  After-all, you would have to search far to find somebody who would not be happy you gave 1c to cancer research or a youth skills program for example.

Spam is increasingly becoming an issue that we need a new approach to combat.  Not only can it be incredibly time-consuming and irritating, but it also has a significant impact on our use of natural resources.  Don’t forget that every email sent also requires the use of energy at many different points.  With this energy impact in mind you can see why eliminating as much spam as possible becomes not only a convenience, but a boon to our planet as a whole.  Knowing this, would you be happy to pay for your email?

4 Responses to CentMail: Is pay-per-email the way to combat spam?

  1. Daniel Lewis says:

    Hello,

    As mentioned via twitter, I would not use a pay-per-email service whether it is going to charity or not. The primary reason is that communication in the real world is free, and the world wide web is a logos for liberated information.

    I think that I would be more likely to use an email system which has two separate email identities/personas attached to it. One persona (which you can imagine as an address) is for email sent using a trust-based networking system (using social and business networking), and another persona for liberated messaging (which is kinda like what we have now – a free for all system with spam filtering). This would get around the spam issue, as most people would be reliant on the trust-based system.

    Social networking systems like LinkedIn work the trust-based model by using the fact that a friend of a friend is probably going to be a good contact. The same model can be applied to emailing.

    Cheers,

    Daniel
    * Bristol, England

  2. Hi Rob & all
    This is an ineresting topic to get started on. In addition ot Daniel's comment I can see a technical problem with pay-per-email as a spam eliminator. A great many (most?) spam emails are distributed by “botnets”, where malicious software has been installed on Windows PCs without the user's knowledge and, unbeknown to its user, the PC is sending copious amounts of spam on behalf of the miscreant who has remote control of the PC. Networks of these hijacked PCs are remote controlled in so-called “botnets”.
    A “pay per email” model would imply that the user of a hijacked PC might end up paying for the spam they send unknowingly as well as the legitimate mail and I can problems with acceptance and implementation of this.
    In the first instance it would be better to address the Windows boot-sector virus and botnet problem first, which would also have a positive impact on phishing fraud. Over to you Mr Gates 😎
    Jules

  3. RAGordon says:

    Thank you both for your comments – it's always great to hear from people who know what they are talking about!

    I agree with both of you completely, and indeed the only reason I found this latest attempt at pay-per-email worthy of attention was because of the charitable nature of its business model. It will be interesting to see how they get around such issues as botnets – which I had completely overlooked when reading the article and I'm surprised it wasn't discussed actually!

    I think Daniel might be right about the trusted network vs. the liberated one. I already operate my email addresses in a similar way, so it will be good to have it more formalised as such.

    I'm still interested in what can be done to combat spam, and not just from a user point of view but also from an environmental one!

  4. RAGordon says:

    Thank you both for your comments – it's always great to hear from people who know what they are talking about!

    I agree with both of you completely, and indeed the only reason I found this latest attempt at pay-per-email worthy of attention was because of the charitable nature of its business model. It will be interesting to see how they get around such issues as botnets – which I had completely overlooked when reading the article and I'm surprised it wasn't discussed actually!

    I think Daniel might be right about the trusted network vs. the liberated one. I already operate my email addresses in a similar way, so it will be good to have it more formalised as such.

    I'm still interested in what can be done to combat spam, and not just from a user point of view but also from an environmental one!

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