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Comments on: Spam is Back

Research and expert commentary on digital technologies in public life

Last Build Date: Sun, 10 Dec 2017 15:16:08 +0000


By: Pieter Ott

Sat, 10 Feb 2007 04:39:07 +0000

Unless we find a way to make spam UN DELIVERABLE to the sender, we're going to be stuck with it. If I send an e mail to a bad address I get it bounced back as un-deliverable. If I could somehow make my address appear in-valid to any sender I choose, that would be the way to go. Someone might know how to write a piece of software that would do this

By: Richard

Wed, 10 Jan 2007 01:23:18 +0000

Frank: It won't deter it. But your example is not "unsolicited bulk email" or whatever we are calling spam right now. Your example is thousands of individuals deciding to spend the money/cpu cycles/whatever to send the text message - which is a different problem. In snail mail terms you are talking about Tom Hank's bags of fan mail, while this discussion is about the "You could already have won $1 million..." junk mail that we all receive. They are quite different problems, with different solutions. My opinion of all this is that it is down to the ISPs. They could essentially stop this by setting as customer defaults: 1. Block SMTP connections to anything other than the ISPs mail server 2. Rate limit email sending 3. Reduce the rate as the volume goes up 4. Allow customers to opt out of these limits on a case by case basis. 5. Give users properly configured ADSL/Cable routers instead of USB modems (to slow down infection in the first place). How many home broadband users really need to send 100+ emails per hour, 24 hours a day? Lets face it, most of the PCs in these botnets are clueless Joe Bloggs users who bought a broadband connection to plug straight into their never-patched Dell PC. These are the users who have never heard of email, but do send a few "hotmails" to their friends from time to time. Get rid of these low-hanging fruit and you make things much harder for spammers to build their bot-nets.

By: Frank

Wed, 27 Dec 2006 04:01:58 +0000

"Also - Here is what CPU cycles will not deter." I noticed that you did not respond to this?

By: Neo

Fri, 22 Dec 2006 01:28:09 +0000

"If you are Amazon, DoubleClick, or Digital Impact - and it takes you 1 millisecond to send a message..." You seem to assume that what these large spammers will do is buy more hardware to continue to send bulk email at their current rates, rather than reduce the volume they send out and target it better. But it's easy to see which of those two would be more cost-effective for them. And it isn't the hardware upgrades. You also forget that the cost is incurred only when sending potentially unwanted email. If someone okays your mail, sending them more is as cheap as it is now. It's making new contacts (or harassing the hell out of people who have already rejected your previous umpteen messages) that would increase, *only*. [proceeds to push micropayments] Won't wash as I already said. Forget the banking/credit card companies. The added user mental work and the added user hoop-jumping entailed by the proliferation of logins and registrations and privacy and financial risks are showstoppers *all by themselves*. "If these assumptions were correct companies such as and would not be in business today." I had never heard of either of those until two seconds ago. Why? Because they're really obscure. Why? Because they're just the latest couple of examples of a long history of repeated attempts to launch new micropayment systems on the net, and they all keep blowing up on the pad, that's why.

By: Frank

Thu, 21 Dec 2006 09:35:00 +0000

Also - Here is what CPU cycles will not deter. While CPU cycles might slow down the illegitimate marketer sending tons of crap it has no ability to allow mid or high profile individuals to relax the guards on their digital points of contact. Read this and (Look for the reference to Bill Gates) and tell me how CPU cycles would address it:

By: Frank

Thu, 21 Dec 2006 09:14:10 +0000

I'm sorry but there is indeed an environmental cost consequence to CPU burning. Hereâ€(image) s an example: If you are Amazon, DoubleClick, or Digital Impact - and it takes you 1 millisecond to send a message and now a new system artificially increases that time to 1 second you will invest in higher power machines (or more machines) to accomplish the same work you did yesterday. It is no different than ISP's having to "add" CPU power to process inbound spam. These CPUs cost "money" to run, they cost money to buy and they cost money to cool. None of us need this added cost to our virtual or physical society. (Prove this for yourself? - For those of you that have a CPU "speed" control on their laptop try lower the speed. Yes, things will get slower but the laptop will also run cooler. - And cooler does mean less electrical energy all around.) Now, At first glance it would seem logical to shift the cost to the sender via CPU overhead. And if that were the best solution I would applaud it and given in that the "waste" of costly CPU cycle burning was simply a part of doing business. But, let's think outside the box for minute. What I am asking you to consider is a method that does not result in an added artificial cost at all. In fact, it results in zero cost for the legitimate desirable message. Therefore - It is not a system of a payment - (pay/message would destroy email!) - what it is rather is a system to guarantee "with cash" respect. Now, if an occasional guarantee is exercises by a recipient (it is unlikely but will happen on rare occasion) the act of moving the cash supporting the guarantee is very doable. The problem many have with Micropayment processing is that they make assumptions regarding the transaction cost using data from traditional banking & credit card companies, then they self impose limiting logic with these banking model limitations. If these assumptions were correct companies such as and would not be in business today. But then again – the world is covered with statements like: "Who would ever buy from an auction, from someone they donâ€(image) t know and probably canâ€(image) t trust, over the Internet?"

By: Neo

Wed, 20 Dec 2006 14:01:49 +0000

What environmental cost? This isn't paper mail we're talking about here. The idea is to make mass mailing expensive, right? Can you suggest a better way? Actually paying money is out of the question; not only won't people stand for it, but the cost of sending an email would be dominated by the transaction costs unless the "postage" was insanely high. Talk about waste. That's why micropayment schemes never take off -- the transaction costs. Consider the example of a Web site going from free viewing of any page to 1 cent per page view. What actually happens at the user's end? They go from just click and you see the page to click and see a login/register page; deep linking's kaput. They have to register at every site that does this, which quickly adds up to a trillion userid/password pairs to memorize. Unless they do something dumb, like use the same password everywhere; then it's just a trillion userids (since they are surely not going to be able to use the same one everywhere without encountering cases of it already being taken), which is really just as bad. Next they have to think carefully about every link they follow or page they view to be frugal, or they'll be nickle-and-dimed to death before they know it. The mental stress transaction cost alone just skyrocketed. Then the processing of all these penny transfers probably costs about a dime per page. So they actually have to charge 11 cents per pageview or be losing money, not just 1, but most of the money gets pocketed by Paypal or some equivalent. To top it off, before long all the forgotten passwords and similar headaches create gripes and the solution pushed is, no doubt, not going back to free pageviews but going forward to a universal logon and universal online banking system. Then the privacy and fraud problems we've had online so far start to look like tempests in assorted teapots compared to what happens next. Just for starters, everyone and their marketing department will insist on having input into what information you have to disclose to get a universal id. The result will be like previous attempts at a universal logon. Remember M$ Passport? Ten thousand forms to fill in, including having to check dozens of "I don't want to receive foobar's special offers" boxes or be spammed to death. More personal disclosure and forms to fill in than for a $20,000 car loan. Hours just to create a new throwaway Hotmail account to use for some dumb site that demanded registration info and probably planned to spam you. What a pain! And of course all of this information gets harvested by some kind of super-ChoicePoint which proceeds to sell it to anyone who can pay their price -- marketers, politicians, identity thieves, con artists, lawyers, spammers ... in short, scum varying only in the precise shade of green and level of stench emanating therefrom. And changing the id is a huge pain, as much so as changing your phone number or primary email is now, and this stress-barrier-to-exit is exploited to push shoddy behavior at users, and with it being tied into your money and all ... well, if you thought phone company nickle-and-diming was bad, just you wait. End result: a penny per pageview actually makes the Web a lot more expensive, slow, annoying, and unsafe to use. Transaction costs, my friend. Transaction costs.

By: Frank

Tue, 19 Dec 2006 12:27:52 +0000

The "point" is to make it expensive for the spammer not just any "big guy". Why do you think email became the killer app in the first place. Waste is waste, no matter how you present it. And if there is no reason for it, waste should not be artificially created. "especially" if there is an environmental cost connected with it.

By: Paul

Sat, 16 Dec 2006 11:40:38 +0000

Isn't the whole *point* to make it expensive for "big guys" to do mass e-mailings? The CPU work is performed by the sender's computer, so only if the sender is a big datacenter does this need "extra heating and cooling" and so forth. :P Crosbie has a good idea too: make the task something useful in the DC sense. Your cycles to a worthy cause become the postage. It has to be work that can be checked quickly though. NP-complete problems make sense for this, since then it's quick to verify a piece of work relative to the power needed to do it to begin with. Prime number finding is an example (since factoring bignums is NP-complete), but maybe not too practical in value. Helping the CIA crack North Korean crypto would be another example. :) (Different servers might provide different sorts of work. There'd need to be a language for describing scientific computations that could be easily interpreted and couldn't carry viruses and other malware. A bytecode-interpreted, sandboxed LISP or OCAML perhaps, or even fortrash...something stripped down and functional (in the formal sense of "a functional language") incapable of any kind of side effects (such as disk or registry access) and easy to implement cross-platform. Or you could just use Java, which would be sure to bog down a would-be spammer's computer until it creaked along like a stone age abacus!)

By: Crosbie Fitch

Sat, 16 Dec 2006 01:37:57 +0000

CPU work only needs to be expended when attempting to form new relationships - and it doesn't need to be performed by intermediaries - only the originator. It may even be possible to provide a work dispensary that enables useful work to be performed, but where the worker is certified uncompensated.