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Stamping Out Free Email
February 4, 2006 11:18 AM   Subscribe

When you really, really want your email to arrive at its destination: now you gotta pay postage. Another brilliant, forward-looking idea for monetizing-the-InternetTM from the wizards at AOL and Yahoo.
posted by digaman (46 comments total)

 
The Internet: it was great while it lasted.
posted by JeremyT at 11:24 AM on February 4, 2006


I've already had trouble with AOL blacklisting a client for sending out a subscription only newsletter, so this should be fun.
posted by 2sheets at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2006


I'd like to thank AOL for sending me 2-3 glass coasters a month. Paying for email? meh, I'm fine, thanks.
posted by Mijo Bijo at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2006


Fortunately there's a lot of free web-based email clients out there. I'm sure half the users here, including myself, have 100 gmail invites for those of you on AOL or Yahoo.
posted by Meredith at 11:33 AM on February 4, 2006


America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered.

Is this masterminded by Lex Luther?
posted by Jesse H Christ at 11:34 AM on February 4, 2006


Have you actually read this? The only thing that will change is that the paid emails will bypass the optional spam filters that the users choose to have turned on. This makes good sense, because paid-for emails are clearly never going to be spam.

Not a big deal.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 11:34 AM on February 4, 2006


They are sons of bitches, I think. Just one more step towards the horrible dystopian future I've always imagined.

Gmail will never do this. Right? Right?
posted by redsparkler at 11:38 AM on February 4, 2006


RTFA?
Are you crazy?
This is MeFi!
Nobody RTFA.
;-P
posted by mischief at 11:38 AM on February 4, 2006


This is not really a new concept, even among die-hard information-is-free Unix mail geeks. Dan Bernstein, mathematics professor and programmer (author of qmail mail server), made the case maybe a decade ago that the only economic model that could control spam was one in which cost was borne by the sender. In his IM2000 specification this means storage of the messages, but he also discusses using micropayments for transit. Others have tried to bolt some of these ideas onto SMTP without any traction really (an example is "computationally expensive" postage). In theory it's all possible, but in practice the difficulties lie in the details of working out a reliable and trustworthy payment system, problems with forwarding and mailing lists, and so on.

When you have huge homogenous user bases like AOL or Hotmail, things get a little easier. I wouldn't be surprised if in five years email postage was the norm though. I suspect most AOL or Hotmail users would easily pay $2 to $5 additional per month for "first class" email.
posted by ldenneau at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2006


Here's my question, will spammers attempt to pay this fee so their messages wfor "v1agra" will skip past the filters?
posted by piratebowling at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2006


This makes good sense, because paid-for emails are clearly never going to be spam.

With the bulk mail rate that the US Postal Service offers commercial entities, even having to pay for postage doesn't deter junk mail.
posted by Rothko at 11:48 AM on February 4, 2006


This idea is not crazy. See also hashcash.
posted by Nelson at 11:57 AM on February 4, 2006


Have you actually read this? The only thing that will change is that the paid emails will bypass the optional spam filters that the users choose to have turned on. This makes good sense, because paid-for emails are clearly never going to be spam.

No, of course not. Nobody had even heard the words junk mail until Al Gore invented the internets.
posted by kaemaril at 12:06 PM on February 4, 2006


The scheme I like (can't recall where I saw it) is the one in which postage is potentially paid to the recipient not the carrier. If you accept the message, paytment is waived and postage is not debited from the sender, but if the message is unwelcome, the default result is that payment comes out of their account.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:08 PM on February 4, 2006


Yeah, it seems to me like the first people / companies that will pay for this "skip the spam filters" are uh, spammers. They have money. Their spam will still make money at 25¢ per message. This is a recipe for disaster.
posted by zpousman at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2006


I mean .25¢ of course.
posted by zpousman at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2006


The End of the Internet?
posted by homunculus at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2006


As Protocols of the Elders of Awesome mentions, on the most basic level this is only likely to help recipients and just put a premium on better delivery for legitimate email marketers.

This is 100% a great opportunity to boost open rates at some of the biggest mail providers. "Enhanced whitelist" (no image blocking, bypass ad-hoc spam filtering) has been automatic at AOL for years, but meeting the criteria -- even for legitimate mailers -- has been extrememly difficult. There are always people that choose to hit the "Report Spam" button rather than the optout link, and that's an essential part of establishing enhanced status. Insofar as organizations have dollars directly connected to their email campaigns, paying for enhanced delivery may provide excellent returns.

The groups that have the most to lose from this model are marketers who use in-house mail solutions instead of contracting out their delivery. Third party bulk email delivery already comes with a per-mesage cost for the sender, so the per-message cost of this service can simply be rolled into the standard costs for such services. In-house mail comes with no per-message cost, which is an essential advantage for mailers with lists in the millions. Adding a per-message cost for delivery to major ISPs in those situations is an immediately costly burden.
posted by VulcanMike at 12:31 PM on February 4, 2006


For those saying the spammers will pay for this service, there are two reasons this will likely not be the case:

1) Per-message costs are not compatible with the profit model spammers enjoy. Spam works because there's no incremental cost between sending 100 or 1,000,000 messages.

2) I doubt AOL and Yahoo would tolerate sale of the service to spammers.
posted by VulcanMike at 12:35 PM on February 4, 2006


The "spam" that bothers people is illegal spam. If spammers have to pay AOL or Yahoo!, the spam is far more easily traceable back to them. This means they are less likely to sign up, regardless of whether it remains profitable at $0.0025 a shot. I can only see this service being used by legitimate companies.

Maybe things are different in the US, but since I signed up for the UK Mail Preference Service (for free) I never get a piece of physical junk mail. It's only illegal e-mail spam that troubles me.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 12:36 PM on February 4, 2006


2) I doubt AOL and Yahoo would tolerate sale of the service to spammers.

They have no problem sening spam through for free right now, though.
posted by Rothko at 12:49 PM on February 4, 2006


1) Per-message costs are not compatible with the profit model spammers enjoy. Spam works because there's no incremental cost between sending 100 or 1,000,000 messages.

2) I doubt AOL and Yahoo would tolerate sale of the service to spammers.


1) Wrong. Ever gotten a glass shop, insurance, or pizza ad in your mailbox? Those have a per unit cost too. It's called junk mail.

2) I dunno about Yahoo, but AOL have long demonstrated that they'll sell anything to anyone as long as it improves the bottom line.
posted by stenseng at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2006


I'd be fine with paying for email, if it meant that spam could be eradicated. Cellphones generally charge per call, either literally or against your package, and I've received three telemarketing calls to my cellphone in the 9 years. Once email has a cost, you bet your ass laws would change overnight to keep spammers out.

Just do the math, it's not the end of the internet: at a quarter cent per message, for $100 a year, you could send out 110 emails a day. I send out maybe 20-30 a day, so my annual bill for emailing everyone in my addressbook would be all of $25 or so. Consider I spend over $600/yr for my home internet connection and this is chump change.

Even with oodles of spam filters, I spent at least ten minutes a day deleting crap from my inbox. My ten minutes per day is worth $25 a year.
posted by mathowie at 12:52 PM on February 4, 2006


Ever gotten a glass shop, insurance, or pizza ad in your mailbox? Those have a per unit cost too.

But those aren't illegal. Surely that makes a difference?
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 12:57 PM on February 4, 2006


As far as I'm concerned, it's bribing your way past the gatekeepers, no more, and no less. I suspect that it will work just about as well.

I do not believe, in other words, that this will benefit anyone but the gatekeepers... certainly not the people being 'protected'.
posted by Malor at 1:02 PM on February 4, 2006


I believe that was Bill Gates suggested such a micropayment system George Spiggot.
posted by nofundy at 1:03 PM on February 4, 2006


Maybe they heard about the tradegy of the commons? In a nutshell: "The parable demonstrates how unrestricted access to a resource such as a pasture ultimately dooms the resource because of over-exploitation. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals, while the costs of exploitation are distributed between all those exploiting the resource."
posted by neuron at 1:09 PM on February 4, 2006


malor: You are exactly right. It's trading away the idea that people should get no spam for the idea that spam is okay so long as it's paid for. I notice the companies planning this system make no mention of Google's Baynesian spam filter, which tends to be very accurate -- at most, I get one spam message in my inbox every two or three days.

nofundy: You are correct that Microsoft has been working on a system like this for some time. I don't know if that's related however. I do remember that it focused on prices a lot smaller than a quarter of a cent to a penny, something like a hundredth of a cent. The idea is to make the fee so vanishingly-small to the average user that paying it is completely painless -- who will notice ten cents more on their account fee? A quarter-cent per email is NOT painless -- if you notice it but you're not a spammer, then the fee is too high.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 PM on February 4, 2006


As messages will have to have some sort of digital signature attached to show that proper payment has been made, how long do you think it will take for spammers to be able to spoof the digital signature?
posted by aroberge at 1:39 PM on February 4, 2006


For those claiming that AOL and Yahoo have no problem sending spam right now, you should check out AOL's whitelist page, which gives their guidelines for listing. You may all think that the major ISPs don't care, but belive me -- they're already doing tons of filtering and monitoring.

Spammers use domain+name matching to target random mailboxes, web scraping and more straightforward means, such as purchasing lists that you agreed to join when you signed up for that free X-Box site and agreed to their terms of service. You may get more spam than you did 10 years ago, but the amount you see almost definitely doesn't match the exponential increases in volume over the years.

I've been using a domain-based filtering system on my mail for a few years now -- all addresses I use on the web consist of a unique code and the domain to which I'm submitting. Only mail that's coded reaches my inbox. 99% of the time, I only get mail that I requested, from the domain to which I've submitted.

Every once in a while, an address leaks out, and I pursue the issue with the original domain (though it seems during the more rampant e-mail worm days, some major sites bled private addresses that way, including Buick and McDonalds). Even with some of the shadier optins, such as the free XYZ sites which sell your registered address to bulk mailers, I've been able to opt out of the zillion lists they added me to and don't seem to have gotten further messages (I did this for research not for fun).
posted by VulcanMike at 1:46 PM on February 4, 2006


I run my own mail server, can anyone point me to where I sign up to receive US$0.0025 for every email my server gets from aol.com or yahoo.com?

If the internet is over, I'd like to cash out with some micropayments.
posted by revgeorge at 1:51 PM on February 4, 2006


Rothko: They have no problem sening spam through for free right now, though.

They have tons of problems sending spam through. I've witnessed their anti-spam system first hand, on behalf of legitimate companies sending legitimate messages to legitimately opted-in recipients. These aren't small companies either -- these are some of the biggest names on and off the Interenet.

stenseng: 1) Wrong. Ever gotten a glass shop, insurance, or pizza ad in your mailbox? Those have a per unit cost too. It's called junk mail.

Completely irrelevant comparison, for tons of reasons including the legality mentioned above.

stenseng: 2) I dunno about Yahoo, but AOL have long demonstrated that they'll sell anything to anyone as long as it improves the bottom line.

I'd love to see a link or any other relevant details you have to support this. AOL's status as an ISP is extremely threatened by the commodizing of access, which is why they've been falling all over themselves to promote spyware, virus and spam protection as value adds. They have much more to gain from blocking spam than they do from ushering it through.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:57 PM on February 4, 2006


Interenet -- har.
posted by VulcanMike at 1:58 PM on February 4, 2006


aroberge:

Message Certification with Cryptograhically-Secure Tokens
To ensure that messages cannot be copied, forged, stolen, or spoofed, Goodmail's email certification process embeds a cryptographically-secure token into every CertifiedEmail message. Each token is unique to the sender, recipient, and body of the message and conveys that it is from an accredited Goodmail sender. The Goodmail token is detected by participating ISPs, checked for validity, and allowed to bypass spam filters. This process prevents the unauthorized use of known brands and assures recipients that a Goodmail CertifiedEmail message is authentic.
posted by VulcanMike at 2:29 PM on February 4, 2006


I get IRL junk mail for pizza places,etc. Yet I don't get same for vIAgr3 4 Her, hot stock tips, or fake bank messages trying to trick someone into giving away their savings account information.

argoberge does have a good point about the enforcement system. this is rather like waiting for a counterfeiter to register their copy of Photoshop.
posted by arialblack at 2:30 PM on February 4, 2006


Gmail will never do this. Right? Right?

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HA!
posted by quonsar at 3:08 PM on February 4, 2006


Good thing there's nobody on AOL worth communicating with.

Seriously, who the fuck still uses AOL?
posted by wakko at 3:15 PM on February 4, 2006


Yes, spammers will pay for this. I used to work for a company that's on the ROKSO list. They were happily paying Ironport for its "Bonded Sender" program as well as a few others.

The 'legit sender' payment programs are the FIRST things that spammers go for. Same with SPF records - they all have SPF records now to try to wiggle past SpamAssassin.

What we need to do is repeal the fuck out of the CAN-SPAM act, bitchslap every legislator that voted for it, and violently obliterate the Direct Marketing Association.
posted by drstein at 3:24 PM on February 4, 2006


Huh, I kinda like George_Spiggott's idea if the whole charging thing goes into effect.

For the time being I'll be selling my gmail invites at $.25/apiece...
posted by craven_morhead at 5:39 PM on February 4, 2006


drstein: They were happily paying Ironport for its "Bonded Sender" program as well as a few others.

If they were a bonded sender and a spammer, how did they deal with spam complaints to those services? What kept the bond from being exhausted and the company from being blacklisted when people complained about the spam?

Same with SPF records - they all have SPF records now to try to wiggle past SpamAssassin.

Yeah, spammers are probably the biggest adopters of SPF! Though it's definitely not apples to apples with the pay programs.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:41 PM on February 4, 2006


The way I read the article, there is really no benefit and no cost to the recipient. Senders can pay a fee to get their messages past the spam filters. Everyone else's messages just continue to go thru the system normally. So the recipient will not necessarily see any more or less spam than they are seeing now, right? Unless of course the system gets abused, which is inevitable. Then the recipient probably ends up with even more spam than before. Serves 'em right for being and AOLer I reckon.

It seems to me like AOL is really just selling out their customers -- "Psst... pay us a fee and we'll make sure your penis enlargement messages get thru our spam filters!" -- and then pretending they are providing their customers with some sort of cutting-edge new service. Smells pretty bad, IMHO.
posted by spilon at 8:35 PM on February 4, 2006


If you don't charge individuals for sending email then spam from an AOL user's zombied PC will still get sent for free.
Goodmail was founded several years ago with the idea that it would charge postage for all mail, but it has narrowed its focus to mail sent by companies and major nonprofit organizations, which will pay a reduced rate.(page 2 of original link)

Also the goodmail architecture relys on a token attached to each email - how long will it take the average spammer to just copy one of those?

One effect of this scheme could be to make mailing lists become chargeable (you pay to sign up) which is probably just softening people up to the idea of paying for every email sent.
posted by Lanark at 8:00 AM on February 5, 2006


Protocols of the Elders of Awesome writes "Have you actually read this?"

Just the first line, it's behind a registration firewall.
posted by Mitheral at 8:12 AM on February 5, 2006


Out of interest, what would you do if you happened to run a mailing list with, say, 10000 members?
posted by kaemaril at 8:32 AM on February 5, 2006


Explain further, kaemaril....
posted by VulcanMike at 4:52 PM on February 6, 2006


I mean that, if you were a company running a mailing list for your customers, for example, would you have to pay per customer or would it be some sort of flat rate?

If the latter, what's stopping spammers creating "mailing lists" and getting the same discounts...
posted by kaemaril at 5:12 PM on February 6, 2006


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