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RE: IETF SMTP Working Group Proposal at

  • From: Barry Shein
  • Date: Wed Aug 21 18:51:19 2002

The only promising long-term solution to spam is to begin charging for
all received commercial e-mail and make that the industry standard.

		       A quick FAQ on this idea

Q1. How does charging solve anything?

    a) It renders unpaid-for spam mere theft-of-service, criminally
       prosecutable under current laws. Not immediately, but as the
       custom of charging matures courts would come to accept that
       evading payment is simple theft.

    b) It provides income, at least you'd get paid something for
       dealing with the problem.

    c) Some of that income could be used to fund an industry
       organization to help enforce against abuse.

Q2. How can you determine what is commercial and what isn't?

A2. It's your system, other than a few possibly illegal motivations
you can do anything you want. But more importantly, if the telcos can
have residential vs business rates, etc., then so can you. There is
nothing that says your lines have to be absolutely perfectly drawn or
satisfy everyone.

It'd be a lot better than what we have now with minors being flooded
with explicit porn spam, obviously fraudulent schemes spewing at
everyone, etc. if we could get it mostly under control.

"Perfect" might take more time.

Q3. Do you mean charging someone like Microsoft for their newsletters?

A3. Maybe, the specifics are ultimately up to you, whatever maximizes
your profits and keeps your customers happy.

Q4. Wouldn't that anger those companies?

A4. Maybe, maybe not. If you could reduce commercial mailing to only
those who could pay then perhaps it suddenly becomes worth
something. Right now I bet many of you delete mail from legitimate
companies almost as fast as you delete spam because you have no time
for any of it, you're overloaded.

Let's state it extremely: How much would it be worth to a major
company to know that for the month of September they will be the only
commercial advertisement any of your customers would see? No (other?)
spam, no nothing, just "``Lord of the Rings: Book 4'' Opens December
32nd" once a day (whatever!), plus their expected, personal mail.

Ok, now work backwards to the only ad today, one of only five today,
but not one of several hundred today.

Marketeers understand that you pay for exclusivity, this concept won't
be foreign to them. One reason you can't really sell it now is, in
part, because you've let your "product" (i.e., access to your
customers' mailbox) become so diluted it's just about worthless.


A5. Not at all.

You could opt to not take any commercial email (or any fees for
delivering it), that's up to you and your business model. This idea
simply tries to make this controllable by those who ultimately have to
provide the infrastructure to deliver the mail.

You could say I'm advocating turning commercial advertising via e-mail
into a legitimate business. But it would be between an ISP and their
customers, not some chicken-boner and the open relays.

  Q5a. What's a "chicken-boner"?

  A5a. Oh, it's an expression used in the spam community for a
  particular imagery of a common type of spammer. An anti-social loser
  in his double-wide, knee-deep in KFC bones, spewing millions of spam
  msgs for $50 a contract.

  Q5b. Isn't that kind of an unfair stereotype? What have you got
  against KFC?

  A5b. ENOUGH! Ok? It's an expression, a term of art, and spam is
  really, really a luncheon meat manufactured by Hormel, Inc.

Q6. But many of these spammers work off-shore, they'll just keep doing
what they're doing.

A6. I can't prove otherwise to you. But my assumption is that given a
revenue stream for this kind of advertising (i.e., money to spend)
enforcement would become more plausible. You can't sue or prosecute
some spammer in Korea now because it would be too much expense and
trouble, it's lost money. But a well-funded industry association?
Perhaps they could pursue evasion internationally.

Also, given a revenue stream model, I'd expect int'l ISPs to get
involved in this sort of business (where it's legal), so int'l
cooperation to prevent theft-of-service would start to become a

Q7. Ok, so why doesn't anyone do this now if it's such a smart idea?

A7. Well, to some extent it will take a groundswell of ISPs moving in
this direction, no one of them can really do it on their own. For
starters we'd have to get the potential advertisers comfortable with
the merits of the idea.

The real problem is that certain aspects of the net have evolved badly
by themselves, so we need to begin pushing back and creating new
realities, such as "if you send out commercial e-mail on the net you
will have to pay for it".

Q8. Pay who? Every ISP? There are thousands of them!

A8. There are thousands of magazines, newspapers, etc. Somehow those
ad businesses are manageable.

Perhaps many (e.g., smaller ISPs) would give their business to the
same agency which would set things up and get them paid, I don't know,
but it's hardly evidence of unworkability! Given almost any
advertising medium there are thousands of outlets. The advertisers
have no particular "right" to be able to advertise to every single
internet customer for one easy monthly payment.

Q9. Won't this annoy customers?

A9. Again, whether and under what conditions your customers get
commercial advertising email is between you and your customers (it's
your business model to chose.) They don't have to get any if you think
that's best.

But let's be honest: Times have changed. You can't tell me that your
customers don't tolerate commercial e-mail because right now they're
getting dozens of such messages per day, maybe per hour.

The only problem is that you're not being paid so, for example, the
cost of those is just being ripped out of your budgets and hence their
customer fees.

Maybe you could lower prices or add new services given new revenue
sources. Or maybe you just fold it in half and put it in your pocket,
again that's your business model to pursue.

Q10. How would you make this work?

A10. One idea is a cryptographically generated "stamp" which could go
in the header of anyone's mail who has paid you to receive their
commercial e-mail.

Beyond the technical solidity, anyone who tries to thwart the method
is clearly counterfeiting and defrauding, so again regular business
law applies.

Obviously there's more to that but it's beyond the scope of a little
FAQ like this.

Q11. I dunno, it seems so...different...something has to be wrong.

A11. That's not much of an objection, or a question.

Q12. If this is a FAQ who asked you all these questions?

A12. Um, ok, you caught me, I made them up! But I've certainly heard
many of the above objections when I've sounded out this idea before
and thought it might be helpful to try to deal with the obvious issues
up front rather than as a tedious, piecemeal thread.

        -Barry Shein

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