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An Anti-Spam Law

Killing Spam "A Dime a Time"

Wednesday, May 8, 2003. Fifty-seven e-mail messages, 34 pieces of commercial spam.

The easiest thing: delete, delete, delete… But I don’t like porn. I don’t like ads for low mortgage rates. I don’t like Viagra ads, or offers of human growth hormone, or other ways to grow three inches, or offers of riches from Togo.

I know others who agree with me and want to end the spam. Among them are large Internet Service Providers (ISPs, including AOL, Earthlink, and Microsoft), state and federal governments, and, most of all, people like you and me who are deluged daily with worthless e-mail.

So I offer this plan: Every time I get a commercial e-mail (that’s someone asking me to buy something or do something for them), I send the e-mail to my ISP. My ISP credits my account with ten cents (A Dime a Time) and bills the sender’s ISP twenty-five cents. The sender’s ISP passes the cost on to the sender.

How can this work? Aren’t the amounts of money too small? Let me explain why I think A Dime a Time is better than competing plans that work with much larger figures.

Twenty-five cents is about what it costs a business to mail an advertising piece by U.S. Mail. I don’t want to stop people from advertising. I just want them to advertise responsibly. Putting a real cost on advertising will make advertisers think before they send out millions of ads. A business would still be able to send out well-targeted ads for a known maximum cost (25 cents each). The cost would almost certainly be lower because they only pay when the receiver complains. (I did not include the Eddie Bauer ad I got in the 34 spams.)

A dime for the receiver also seems like a reasonable cost. It takes about ten seconds to forward and address a piece of e-mail. Ten cents for ten seconds is $36 per hour. It’s not steady work, of course, but it’s also not a bad rate of pay for most people. Going to court for the hundreds of dollars proposed in other plans is a gamble. Winning is not all that easy and courts don’t need a larger caseload. A Dime a Time is certain and fair.

This is a regulation on ISPs. They would be required to pay their subscribers the dime as a condition of operation. They would also be required to pay the 25 cents to other ISPs when their subscribers sent commercial spam. For ISPs that host spammers (and this is a very small minority) this would be a cost. For ISPs that are successful at limiting spam from their subscribers, this would be a revenue source.

How much revenue? Spammers send out millions of messages a day. AOL has about 40 million subscribers. If each one gets 20 spam e-mails a day, that’s 800 million spams. Twenty-five cents apiece gives $200 million a day in added revenue for AOL. They might like the extra money.

But that would never happen because the number of spam messages would plummet the moment the legislation went into effect. And that is exactly what we want.

No ISP that wanted to stay in business would allow millions of spam messages to go out with the hope that they would be able to recover the costs from the sender. Bad ISPs would be put out of business. Good ISPs would occasionally collect money, when they chose to, and should break even after paying their users. Costs of dealing with clever spammers would go way down.

The good thing is that most of the process of collecting the money can be automated. Commercial spam must have an address where potential customers can send money (usually a web site that has further information). Fake return addresses may be hard to deal with, but this spam has to tell you where to go or it is worthless to the sender. Devising a system to read the body of a message and note the web site is a no-brainer. Adding up the numbers and producing a bill is simple, too. Any ISP could do it – probably by next week.

Internet-savvy readers will note that there may be a problem if the spammer has a commercial site on one ISP and sends the spam through another ISP. This proposed law makes the ISP for the site responsible for the cost. It also gives the site ISP the right to bill the ISP that allowed the spam to go out.

There are two more issues that must be considered. The first is free speech. The target of this legislation is commercial speech. It may be regulated. Messages without commercial content would not be affected. The second is whether offers of riches are commercial. They are scams. The goal of the sender is to drain your bank account without putting any money in. They get money; you get (bad) experience. It sounds like a commercial enterprise to me.

Please help us work against spam by putting the power to stop spam in the hands of the people who receive spam – you and me.


What you can do

  1. Comment on this article. Send mail to antispam@IdyllArbor.com

  2. Join the Yahoo antispam_laws group for discussions of ways to end spam. Send a blank e-mail to  antispam_laws-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

  3. Write your legislators and ask them to pass this anti-spam law.

  4. Write your ISP and ask them to support this law.

  5. Tell your friends and get them connected to this effort.