North American Network Operators Group

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Re: Economics of SPAM [Was: Micorsoft's Sender ID Authentication......?]

  • From: John Levine
  • Date: Mon Jun 13 16:04:36 2005

We've been here before, but to recap.

>1. If a particular billing/business model presents difficulties then
>   we might have to consider a different model, others are possible
>   (hence, straw man of e-postage etc.)

I look forward to hearing about a design for an email billing system
that does not require technology that is two orders of magnitude
beyond the state of the art and would be effective against spammers.
I hope my inability to envision one is just due to lack of
imagination, but I've been asking for years and I've never seen
anything even close.  It's not hard to sketch out a scheme that does
statistical billing and works so long as everyone plays more or less
by the rules.  It is far harder to come up with one that will work
against determined bad guys who would be delighted if 1% of their mail
leaked through without paying (or paid by other people.)

>2. It would seem to say, for example, the long distance voice billing
>   system is impossible since it would seem to have many of the same
>   qualities you delineate as insurmountable obstacles.

Telephony is heavily regulated, has high costs of entry, has nothing
comparable to the spam problem (fraudulent callers at higher volumes
than legit callers), and is still subject to gross frauds like MCI.
I'm thinking both of MCI's accounting frauds, and of more technical
stuff like routing calls through Canada and reoriginating them at
small telcos in the upper midwest to make them look like local rather
than long distance traffic.  Is that really the business you want to
be in?  It is also my impression that the number of phone calls is a
whole lot less than the number of e-mail messages, returning us to the
previous problem.

I can't help but note that telephony is rapidly moving in the other
direction, away from itemized billing.  My phone service is now flat
rate for calls to anywhere from Honolulu to Helsinki.  Perhaps they
know something.

>Most importantly the big difference between those billing systems and
>e-mail is that there are billions and billions of dollars in those
>voice billing systems and the systems they support. There is very
>little money in e-mail,

This part, I completely agree with.  No matter what anti-spam
technique you propose, someone will complain that it costs too much.
(This is particularly true of bulk marketers who apparently think that
if e-mail were merely 100 times cheaper than paper mail rather than
1000 times cheaper, mass bankruptcies would ensue.)

Spamhaus says, on the record, that MCI and SBC will not disconnect
spammers for anything other than non-payment.  The money is talking
there.  One of the few hopeful signs on the horizon is that Verizon,
for all its faults, has a lot better history of booting off spammers
than MCI does.