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Method for Controlling Spam
Via E-Postage Fees

Copyright (C) May 26, 1996, Javilk@mall-net.com All rights reserved.
Based upon my previous e-mailed proposal to The Web Consultant's Association mailing list.

This proprietary information is presented for professional comment.

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How can we control spam, without giving up control of the internet to some governmental, or supra-governmental international agency? Here are some thoughts and a proposal for shifting costs back to the spammer.

You have a little list... it is your list, you can put people on it, or take people off it as you please. Who is on the list? E-mail addresses, topic keywords, and domain names. And each has a price associated with it, a price YOU charge for accepting mail FROM them. It's E-Postage that YOU collect.

Your friends, and your favorite mailing lists? 0.00, free. Ah, but Adverspam.com: $20.00, "nature photo": 0.00. You decide. And if Adverspam.com sends you a few "Nature Photo" things you don't like, put their name before "nature photo", on your list and they won't bother you again unless they are willing to pay $20 per e-mail. (Then again, if you are a world class nature photographer or writer, they might think it worth while to pay you to read their proposals, but not often...)

Isn't this the death of free e-mail? Not really. You won't charge your friends, will you? Just the folks you don't want to hear from again. What does E-Postage Cost You need to get an e-postage capable mail reader. As to what you will pay to send out your e-mail, that depends upon whether you have a relationship with the person you are sending to. if you do, you should be on their list, and there should be no charge. If not, some nominal charge like five cents may apply.

How do I know what I have to pay? You send the mail with some reasonable value, such as five cents. If there is no fee, as when they know you, you don't get charged. If the fee is over the value you set, you get an insufficient e-postage message, and the asking fee for e-mailing that individual. You can raise your payment and send it again, or shrug your shoulders and forget about contacting that person. And if they like what you say, they will drop their rate for you to zero.

How will the spammers pay me? They probably won't. But if they won't, their spam-o-grams won't get through. Which is, after all, the whole point of this system. If they do choose to pay, it will be via a clearinghouse that will credit your account. If you set your asking e-postage low enough, some spammers will eventually pay you to accept their e-mail. And you will be able to use that money to help pay for your net access, and perhaps more.

What Does It Mean?

Who Determines the Fees?

You do. You are in control, not some arbitrary spam czar or censor. No one need approve what you charge to accept and see your e-mail. And you don't have to charge everyone. No government regulatory agencies need apply!

Who Gets the Money?

You do. (Or most of it.) But only when your e-postage fee is less than or equal to the amount the sender authorizes. If the sender authorizes less, he gets an automatic one line "Insufficient E-Postage" message.
(E-Postage: INSUFFICIENT: Auth 0.05, Ask 0.10)

You can charge to read your mail if you want to. Anything not on your free list and without your minimum payment attached gets returned E-POSTAGE DUE. You get the money. Well, most of it. A clearing house gets a fraction of any fees you charge, and the folks who wrote your e-mail reader program (Eudora, Pegasus, Netscape, etc.) get a fraction too, for providing you with a workable anti-spam mail handler. But the bottom line is that YOU remain in control. No government regulation, no censorship, and spammers have to pay you if they want you to receive their advertising. Use it to pay for your internet access, and bank the rest.

Yes, this is a nuisance tax on spammers, a tax you charge depending upon how you feel. You won't make much per hour reading your mail, and it still does not keep you from reaching out and touching someone who's article you just read. Let's say most people set their default fee as $0.05 for one letter. You want to reach out and touch someone new? That's only a nickel. But at five cents a spam-o-gram, a mailing of six million pieces costs $300,000, far beyond the price most pyramid schemers, Brooklyn Bridge sellers and other moral lepers can afford! And as people recognize them as who they are, that cost might rise from $300,000 to $6,000,000 or more. Enough to deter. And that is the point, deterence.

Also, a mass mailing will produce a blizzard of insufficient e-postages messages. It isn't like getting a one to five percent complaint rate, it's an automatic "mail bombing" of legitimate Insufficient E-Postage messages from 90% of the recipients!

Does It Kill The Free Market?

Here is the beauty of it -- it isn't totally without heart. For the $50 some unknown person does have, he can send a thousand pieces of e-mail. If enough recipients value that e-mail and the product or idea it represents, he goes on to fund himself, the same way real companies do in the real world. And even then, he won't send you more than one or two e-mails because it costs him money. Right now, it doesn't cost him much more to hit you a few times a week!

On the other hand, if our mass-mailer has trash, no one buys his products, and so he goes broke fast without bothering too many people, just the way he would in the real world.

What is more, if too many spammers send too much junk, most people will raise their default fees. If You get too much junk, you just raise your fees. You are in control. They either pay, or go away.

So the second part of this is idea gives us the usual marketplace evaluations, user Driven Market Forces weeding out the bad products for most of us, while encouraging the development of Really Good products that change the world.

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Building Support

Who Wins?

With these who would gain, we have allies who would be willing to support this proposal to place us in charge of our e-mail.

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Who loses?

Do the spammers have any recourse? Yes, pay the e-postage or don't get any mail through. Meaning to say, choose whom to send what to very carefully, as it now costs real money, just as in the real world. The end result, is that you only get to see what you want to see. And if you don't like what you see, you just raise their e-postage fee till they go away.

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How Does It Work?

You have a mail reader, like Eudora, Peguasus, or Netscape News; it lives on YOUR computer, so you have control over it. No ISP, spammer or agency need approve or permit you to have it. This new mail reader uses a protocol that is probably built into it by the mail reader manufacturer or an aftermarket firm.

It monitors your incoming mail to see which pieces you are willing to view because you know the sender or topic, and which pieces should be "discouraged" by demainding a postage fee for before they are presented for you to view.

It is sort of like a "weak" kill file; but a profitable one capable of converting spam advertising into something that you are paid to read. And in that way, shifts your access costs to the advertisers regardless of where you are.

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How does it know whom to charge? You have a list, such as the following list:

A Typical E-Postage list:

Fred@friendly is an e-mail address with a $0.00 charge.
.big-spam.com is a domain name, a source of spam you block
"fishing" is a subject line keyword you let through for $0.00
* is everyone else. You might even set it to no charge.

This list establishes payment requests to place matching e-mail on your mail queue. It reflects your decisions. No ISP, Spammer, or anyone else need agree with your sense of values. And if they don't agree, you don't hear from them. "typo@raving-lunatics.org" will never hit you with his ten thousand line thesis on why you shouldn't charge him. At least not unless he pays you $50 to read it.

If the sender does not include enough postage, there is no transaction, you never see the e-mail, they never get a bill, just an e-postage due notice.
(Header record: E-Postage: Auth 0.05 Code: 295739388)

(Return record: E-Postage: INSUFFICIENT Auth 0.05 Ask 0.10)

If the sender authorizes enough e-postage, then the clearing house processes a transaction to pay you to accept that piece of e-mail. They pay you your rate, not the sender's rate. (And they should not show you the sender's rate, to keep prices from spiraling upwards. It isn't polite.)

After reading any piece of e-mail, YOU have the option of placing the sender on the no-fee list, or on some fee schedule. YOU are in control.

Who gets the money? YOU do! It's your time, your disk space and your bandwidth they want. No one else need approve. (Well, there is the e-postage payment clearing house, but they are only contacted when an agreement has been struck between sender and recipient.)

What is fair value? Who cares! If you don't want to make money receiving spam, set your value high. If you want to make money from spam, set your value to a more reasonable number. That is YOUR decision! No one need "approve" your rates. And in practice, you don't charge your friends to e-mail you.

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Transaction Model Diagram

Mail      Mail         Clearing-     Sender    Comment
Queue     Reader       House

(-----(   ( ---------------------------     ID'd as free, non-spam

            ( ---------------------------     ID'd as Fee Req'd
            ------------> *                   Funds Request
                            ( - - - - - >     (Optional confirmation)
            ( ---------- ( * > -------- >     Funds Transfer Notice
( ---------- (                                Paid Spam put on mail queue
                                              _IF_ funds transfered OK.

            ( ---------------------------     ID'd as Fee Req'd
            X--------------------------->>    If insufficient postage
                                              or queue overflow

            ( ---------------------------     ID'd as Fee Req'd
            ----------- > *                   Funds Request
                          * > --------- >     If insufficient funds

Transaction Model

When an e-mail comes in, here is what happens:

Header/Supervisory Message Formats

To prevent theft, the code is a function of the e-mail message number, the sender's account number, the recipient's mail handler serial number, fee, and the time and date of expiration. There may be other data as well. No code is needed if the message is sent or accepted for free. And while one would usually not generate an acceptance response for a no-fee message, some might request a response to make sure your address is valid and you got the message. There may also be some additional handshaking between the sender and the clearing house if requested.

And of course, there are provisions to limit the number of items in the funds pending queue, and prevent the less than rational sender from mailbombing the recipient if postage is not paid.

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What if I send e-mail to someone charging $10.00 to read it? If you did not authorize that much, you get an insufficient e-postage message. You do not get billed. If you did authorize $10.00, maybe you had a reason...

For example, in the above list, big-spam either pays $20.00 per e-mail, or you get nothing they send. Which means they keep getting a blizzard of "insufficient e-postage" notices from you and everyone else till they take you and all the others who want money off their list. But since "fishing" is before little-spam.com, you will accept e-mails with the word "fishing" in the title from little-spam.com for free. At least till you get fed up with them.

What if little-spam.com starts lying and putting "fishing" on everything they send me? You move their name before "fishing", so you only get e-mail they are willing to authorize $10. for.

Technically, that kind of lying is misrepresentation with intent to defraud, and a broad practice of such deception does fall under criminal law. That means the government pays the prosecution lawyers, not you.

Why would anyone authorize $10.00 to have me see their mail? Well, you might be known to be interested in buying yachts or homes, and they may have a few they want to sell you. Or you might be someone who writes reviews in yachting magazines. But chances are Very Few people, if any, will authorize that high an e-postage fee, so you will see Very Little mail from those spammers. Which is after all, the whole point!

Doesn't Some Spam Leak Through?

This is about controlling spam, not eliminating it. You get one spam from anyone, you put them on your fee list at whatever rate you want. Or put the whole domain on, and then all mail from there has to pay your fee to get through. You are in control; not absolute control, but fairly decent control. And since this is built in to your personal mail reader, no one can do a thing about it! You set your fees however you want! All the sender can do, is to refuse to authorize the postage, in which case you don't see their letter. It's that simple.

What If I Just Don't Want Mail?

If you have something more important do do with your time, say if you are an executive in a corporation, you can charge more than just a nickel an e-mail. So perhaps you have several fee lists, with names in each one. If Aunt Mille e-mails you, she's already on your free list. If it's from within the company domain, that domain name is on your free list, isn't it? If a known spammer e-mails you, once you get the first spam, you can set your acceptable fee for $2.50, or maybe $25.00, and they get an insufficient e-postage notice, which they may either pay or never make the contact. Anyone else, it's whatever your default rate is, probably five cents to a dollar, so that a bunch of five minute pieces of e-mail nets you $1.50 to $6 per hour.

Who would pay me $25 to read their mail? That depends upon who you are. Probably no one. If you are an influential person, perhaps quite a few people may think it worth while. But the point is, it would be no more people than you want. (Great way for Senator Sludgepump to run his fund raising campaign. contribute25@sludge4prez.org, contribute100@sludge4prez.org, etc.)

What About Mailing Lists

The list owner would typically set the rate to zero for subscribers. So if you e-mail something to the list, it goes through without a charge. Each list member has set the list's e-mail address to zero, so they get the post as usual. Since the post goes through on the list address, there is no chance of you being charged. If some of the list members have not set the list to zero, the list owner gets the supervisory insufficient e-postage messages. Since he pays nothing, nothing happens. Those list members don't get their posts and typically end up being unsubscribed.

What About Fake Addresses, Fake Payments, etc.

That is covered by existing criminal law -- intent to defraud. Some of this may be avoided by having the e-mail reader process all the transit messages that are tacked on to the headers, and charge based upon some transit header being in YOUR e-postage fee list.

Payments are harder to fake, as your mail reader knows which clearing house to contact. If the spammer has no account, you don't get a payment notice, and so you never see the spam-o-gram.

A simpler model of having the sending ISP being the clearing house does not work because quite often, the sender owns the ISP. (Example: Cyberpromo) But even if he did, his faked payment authorization is intent to defraud, a criminal action under existing law. And "criminal" means the government pays the prosecuting lawyers, not you.

What About ISP's

What about them? The mail reader is on your computer, not theirs.

In the long run, to reduce mail handling volume, etc., the Internet Service Provider may wish to use an e-postage capable mail handling system that knows your preferences before routing mail to your queue. This is not essential, but may be a follow on product.

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Questions, Comments, Ideas?

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