R. A. Hettinga on Sat, 10 Aug 2002 01:25:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> David Friedman: Mail Me the Money!


Mail Me the Money!
By David Friedman 08/08/2002

My email contains much of interest. It also contains READY FOR A SMOOTH
WAY OUT OF DEBT?, A Personal Invitation from make_real_money@BIGFOOT.COM,
You've Been Selected..... from friend@localhost.net, and a variety of
similar messages, of which my favorite offers "the answer to all your
questions." The internet has brought many things of value, but for most of
us unsolicited commercial email, better known as spam, is not one of them.

There is a simple solution to this problem?so simple that I am surprised
nobody has yet implemented it. The solution is to put a price on your
mailbox. Give your email program a list of the people you wish to receive
mail from. Any mail from someone not on the list is returned, with a note
explaining that you charge five cents to read mail from strangers. Five
cents is a trivial cost to anyone with something to say that you are
likely to want to read?but five cents times ten million recipients is
quite a substantial cost to someone sending out bulk email on the chance
that one recipient in ten thousand may respond.

In order for this to work, we need an easy way of making such payments?a
widely available form of digital cash. From a technical point of view,
this is a solved problem, thanks to the work of David Chaum, a Dutch
cryptographer. Some years back he came up with a workable system for the
online equivalent of cash and got an American bank to implement one
version of it on an experimental basis.

You are a firm interested in selling a solution to the spam problem. The
first step is to write and distribute plug-ins for the leading email
programs, allowing the user to set a price?whatever price he likes?for
receiving mail from strangers and to attach ecash payments?digital
stamps?to mail he sends to strangers. The second is to create digital
stamps and sell them from an online stamp machine.

Some potential customers may be concerned that the use of your stamps will
compromise their privacy, allowing you to collect information about who is
corresponding with whom. You therefore explain that your stamps implement
the fully anonymous version of Chaumian ecash. You are no more capable of
tracing their path from one user to another than the Treasury is of
reconstructing the path followed by a particular quarter.

Your digital stamps differ from the stamps provided by the post office in
one important respect?yours are reusable. From the standpoint of the
ordinary email user, digital stamps cost, on average, nothing, since he
receives about as many as he sends. They may even cost less than nothing;
if he sets a low enough price on his mailbox, some spam will make it
through, giving him a positive balance of stamps received over stamps
sent. Your online stamp machine will buy as well as sell, allowing such
users to convert that balance into a small income. Spam is no longer a
problem for those who do not want to receive it, and it is now a positive,
if small, benefit for those who do.

The author is a professor in the Santa Clara University Law School and
Economics Department and author of (most recently) Law's Order: What
Economics Has to Do With Law and Why It Matters.

Copyright  2002 Tech Central Station - www.techcentralstation.com

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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