Did you know that email existed in the 1970s? I consider myself fairly tech-savvy and this was news to me. This post is not about email’s incept date however. It is about spam email. Like many nowadays, my primary email address is a Gmail one. Looking at my Inbox, my Gmail address has been with me for almost twenty years. Google, which runs Gmail, purchased an anti-spam company years ago and has kept its users’ Inboxes largely free of junk email a.k.a. Spam. Not so, with Hotmail, which was purchased by Microsoft more than two decades ago. Hotmail, which has evolved into Live.com and Outlook.com, still has a spam problem. It famously had an open directory of addresses in the early days. My Hotmail account, which is largely ignored, predates my Gmail account by a couple of years. Logging into it this morning, what were the top emails in my Inbox? The most recent one’s subject line read, “The..Best..Gifts..on..Oprah’s…Favorite…Things..List” followed by “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Savings! Get 16×20 Canvas Prints for $14.99.” Mind you, these were emails that Hotmail had not caught as spam despite all these years of my clicking that most useless of buttons, namely ‘Report Junk’ in the menu. Nevermind that someone out there managed to equate purported savings for a trinket with life and liberty!
The preamble grew long in order to give context and paint a picture, but when confronted with the aforementioned spam emails and coming across an article about the very first spam message (and subsequently finding another and more detailed one here) it got me thinking.
Why can’t we stop spam? Who are the people who perpetuate this menace (surely someone must be buying those Oprah favourite things to keep spammers in business) and what could be done about this menace, which at best is a waste of time and at worst could lead to phishing, ransomware, malware? Many spammers use our Inboxes to steal banking information, identities or to take down organizations. To do so they may even take over servers not belonging to them.
Then it occurred to me. The reason why, according to one online source, “60 billion spam emails are forecasted to be sent daily from 2019-2023,” is that it is almost free to send. Indeed, someone is buying into the spam messages, but sending spam emails by the millions is easy and low cost. Governments do not follow up or enforce anti-spam laws and perpetrators have no shame or care, but most of all it is done because it can be done so cheaply. The answer therefore has to be that email should not be free. Sending an email has to be analogous to sending a snail mail letter and has to cost something. Think about it. Any amount associated with sending an email would work.
Let’s say we assign a cost of one cent to an email. This would be payable to the ISP or hosting provider or even the company that controls the gateway. Let’s say that I send 10 emails a week to friends and family. It would cost me 10 cents. Even if I send 100 personal emails a week a one dollar bill – or equivalent value in your part of the world – would not break the bank. At work, if 100 employees send 200 emails a week or even 1,000 emails a month the cost incurred would be $10 (1,000 * 0.01)/month/person, which the company would shoulder or reimburse. Surely, most people think of this amount as reasonable – especially to slay the scourge that is unwanted email.
Let’s go back to the world of spammers now. Remember that 60 billion daily spam count? Well, it would cost spammers $600 million a day. They would be out of business. Many spammers send out millions of emails weekly or daily. Could that be the end of that? Searching the net to see if anyone else had come up with a similar notion the first two pages were full of advice on how to handle spam, ironically including this one from Microsoft, but not much detail or discussion on making email cost-based. The idea has been thought of before as evidenced by this page. Still, and apparently, not enough
Things That Need To Go Away: Anyone Who Buys Something From A Spam Email