For email - 4th February 2004
Sydney Morning Herald Online
days of sending emails for free may be numbered. The
owners of the two largest email systems in the world,
Microsoft and Yahoo, are considering ways of imposing
a "postage" fee for emails.
experts have long suggested that the rising tide of
junk email, or spam, would turn into a trickle if
senders had to pay even as little as one cent for
Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, has told the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that spam would
not be a problem in two years, partly because of systems
that would require people to pay to send email.
making emailers buy electronic "stamps"
- in fact, encrypted code numbers - the illegal spammers
could be forced to identify themselves, or give up.
one cent charge might be minor for most emailers,
but it could destroy spamming businesses that send
a million offers in the hope 10 people will respond.
Yahoo nor Microsoft has made a firm commitment to
charging postage, in part because the idea still faces
substantial opposition among internet users.
it could give them a big stream of revenue, academic
researchers have proposed complex stamp systems in
which email recipients would be ones who set the price
on messages before they could enter their in-boxes.
Mr Gates even suggested a system that would allow
users to waive charges for friends and relatives.
is quietly evaluating an email postage plan being
developed by Goodmail, a Silicon Valley start-up company.
It proposes that only high-volume mailers pay postage
at first - a cent per email.
money would go to the email recipient's internet access
provider. But the company suggests that the internet
providers share the payments with their users, either
through rebates or by lowering monthly fees. Under
this system, a mass emailer would sign up with Goodmail,
buying a block of stamps - encrypted code numbers
that it would insert in the header of each email message.
the internet provider of the recipient participates
in the system, it decrypts the stamp and submits it
to Goodmail. Only then is the sender's account charged
a cent and the receiving service provider paid the
money, minus a service fee for Goodmail.
would not pay for stamps that were not used, but they
would pay whether or not an email recipient read the
some experts fear big spammers will be happy to pay
the postage. "It is the spammers who are the
ones with the big pockets," says Charles Stiles,
manager of the postmaster department at America Online,
who worries such a system might restrict the wrong
is taking a different approach and is testing a system
under development by the Internet Research Task Force.
system, called the Sender Permitted From, or SPF,
creates a way for the owner of an internet domain,
such as aol.com, to specify which computers are authorised
to send email with aol.com return addresses.
allows a recipient's email system to determine whether
a message being represented as coming from someone
at aol.com really is from that address. Most spam
being sent now uses forged return addresses.
has been floating a similar proposal, labeled "caller
ID", that could be expanded in the future to
accommodate more sophisticated anti-spam approaches
including internet postage systems.
are under way among the backers of SPF, Microsoft
and others involved in email to reach a compromise
sender notification system.
these proposals can run into problems because there
are legitimate cases when mail sent by one domain
claims to be from another. For example, online greeting-card
services will send messages with the return address
of the person sending the card, even though the message
does not go through the sender's email account.
taking part in the discussion say that companies such
as greeting-card services may need to change their
e-mail software to comply with the new standards.
proposed scheme will break parts of the way email
works today," said Hans Peter Brondmo, a senior
vice-president of Digital Impact who has represented
big emailers in the spam technology negotiations.
challenge, he said, is to find a system that will
require as little retrofitting as possible to email
Morning Herald Online
When Will Spam Be Banned, by Greg Tingle