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Ken Magill

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Stupid Media Watch: Wasn't this Idea Killed Long Ago?

4/19/16
 
By Ken Magill
 
I used to be an advocate of a small charge for emails sent, say 1,000th of a cent each. The logic was the minuscule charge wouldn’t hurt even large commercial senders but could put a dent in spam.
 
Then came the botnets. With botnets, how can you know you’re charging people for email they willingly sent?
 
As a result, I no longer advocate charging for email. In fact, I think I may have been a little late to the game on this one. Those more informed than I—and there are a lot of you—abandoned the idea long before I did. 
 
It was not until one of you patient souls took the time to explain to me just why charging even a fraction of a cent for each email sent was a terrible idea that I abandoned that untenable position.
 
Well, someone needs to call Seattle Times tech columnist Patrick Marshall and give him the same talking-to I got.
 
He recently advocated charging for email. What is more, he is aware of the bot problem, but blows its risks off anyway.
 
“Ultimately, I believe the only way to stop spam is legislation that requires Internet service providers to charge the sender a nominal amount for each email,” Marshall wrote. “The amount would be small enough to not matter to individuals but it would matter to those sending out millions — or even just hundreds of thousands — of spam emails.
 
“OK, I know we’d then see an increase in the number of hackers accessing others’ computers to send the spam. But if individuals see their bills for email going up, they will take steps to shut out the spammers.”
 
A little arithmetic might help Marshall change his mind.
 
In an experiment conducted by security firm Sophos, one infected computer sent 5.5 million spam emails in one week.
 
Say an Internet service provider is charging one one thousandth of a cent for each email its subscribers send.
 
At 5.5 million emails a week, that’s 22 million a month. Twenty two million emails at 1,000th of a cent per message equals $22,000.
 
Yeah, I think the average consumer might notice a $22,000 bump in their monthly Internet fee.
 
And having done that bit of arithmetic, I now no longer think charging a nominal fee for each email sent is a bad idea. I think it’s a monumentally stupid idea.
 
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