Fight Spam With Pennies

Fight spam by donating to your favorite charity. That’s how researchers at Yahoo are hoping to convince people to put a virtual one-cent stamp on their outgoing e-mails. Sending a penny-stamped e-mail through Yahoo’s (not yet released) CentMail program would automatically mark it as “real mail” and get it past any spam filters, Wired reports. As an added incentive, the penny goes to the charity of your choice. Critics argue that it’s only a matter of time before spammers figure out how to make counterfeit stamps. [%comments]

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  1. Terry says:

    Gmail seems to filter spam quite nicely; and for free!

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  2. Sheamus says:

    Or for that matter, for the price of a penny, wouldn’t it be commercially viable to pay the fee to have your spam-mail automatically approved and therefore have a much bigger chance of being opened and read?

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  3. David says:

    It seems very difficult to accomplisyh given the decentralized (and open) structure of the current email system. Without a complete overhaul, it would be difficult to accomplish. With an overhaul, we can stop many of the abuses without the necessary payment scheme.

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  4. brazzy says:

    The suggestion to combat spam by making emails cost money is as old as spam itself (I have personally heard it more than 10 years ago) and utterly impractical and pointless.

    Spam works because internet bandwidth is cheap and emails require very little of it.

    You cannot penalize bandwidth usage in general because then all those useful, innovative, free new Web 2.0 services would die immediately.

    You cannot selectively penalize email traffic because it would be easy to disguise it as something else, and there are legitimate mass emails (most significantly discussion mailing lists) that should not be penalized.

    So what does that leave you with? An impressive-sounding but ultimately dumb idea. This “compromise” of paid emails not being checked by spam filters, even if it cannot be forged, is still pointless because either spam filters work like they always have, in which case there is no advantage compared to not having these paid emails because legitimate ones usually do get through them.

    Or spam filters are adjusted to give more false positives on non-paid mails, which hurts the above-mentioned mailing lists as well as everyone else whose email provider hasn’t joined this programme (which probably requires significant investment in infrastructure and beaurocracy). Like people who want to run their own email servers. Yay for the new email oligopoly?

    And finally, there’s the question of how it can be guaranteed that the money actually reaches the charity and this isn’t just an attempt to turn a useful service that costs nothing because it’s so cheap to provide into a huge cash cow – like test messages.

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  5. Paul says:

    Wow, I love this idea. I hope spammers don’t ruin it. Also, how are you going to pay the penny. It seems like it could be a logistics problem for not business users.

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  6. Justin Harper says:

    What a great idea. Wish I had thought of that.

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  7. jokerman2 says:

    According to, 183 billion emails are sent a day. They also estimate that around 70% or roughly 128 billion of these are spam. That leaves ‘real’ emails of about 55 billion a day. A one cent surcharge on those emails would generate 550 million dollars every day. Call me a cynic but I suspect ISP’s, who typically supply email as part of your internet service, would find a good excuse to shove a good deal of this extra revenue into their pockets rather than handing it off to charities.

    A better strategy to combat spam would be to lessen the number of botnet computers out on the web. These machines are surreptitiously sending the bulk of spam. As long as the internet is filled up with poorly maintained Windows PC’s which are subject to being compromised, botnets and spam will continue to be a problem. Making users pay extra for sending an email probably won’t change that.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

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  8. WholeMealOfFood says:

    There was a similar idea discussed in Why Not? by Barry J. Nalebuff and Ian Ayres (of this blog). In that version, if I remember correctly, the recipient received the postage as a payment, but had the option to not accept the postage if the email was wanted. Alternatively, it could be viewed as payment by an advertiser to the consumer to view an email advertisement.

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