The battle between the common Internet user and spam e-mail
drags on — a state of war in which there are no rules and no
higher authority to whom one can appeal for justice.

But a research team at the University’s School of
Information suggests that some level of accord may be in sight.

Doctoral students Thede Loder and Rick Walsh and Assistant
Professor Marshall Van Alstyne said their solution for reducing
spam is setting a price for spam senders in hopes that sending spam
will ultimately become too expensive.

“This mechanism hits spammers where it hurts most —
their wallets,” Van Alstyne said.

The team’s plan is called Attention Bond Mechanism and is
unique because it is designed to strike a deal between e-mail
senders and the recipients by requiring senders to pay those
recipients who do not want their email.

(The purpose of ABM is) “to provide an efficient means for
two parties to discover if they have a potentially fruitful
relationship (where both might benefit), while forcing senders to
think carefully about who is receiving their e-mails so that they
do not waste the time, effort and resources of the intended
recipient,” Loder said.

The ABM software will filter the inbox, noting which senders are
not pre-approved by the user, or not on their
“whitelist.” When a spammer sends an e-mail to someone
who has not already agreed to receive the message, ABM will send
the spammer a “challenge message.”

Loder said the the message will read, “Dear sender of an
e-mail, you have attempted to contact a user of ABM, but this user
does not have you listed as someone pre-approved for contact. If
you still wish to reach this person, please authorize the transfer
of 10 cents to his escrow account, then resend the e-mail and
reference your proof of payment.”

He added, however, that the 10 cents is an arbitrary number. The
ABM user decides how much an email sender must risk in order to
send the e-mail successfully. Therefore, if an ABM user sets his
price at 60 cents per message, senders who are only willing to pay
an amount lower than this sum will not have access to the
user’s inbox.

Once the sender receives the challenge message and decides it is
worth risking whatever sum of money the ABM user has posted, the
sender authorizes the payment and resends the message. If the user
decides not to accept the message or that the message was abhorrent
or simply uninteresting, he claims the money.

But will this be forever farewell to “Enlarge your
penis” and “Lose 50 pounds in two weeks”

“It would certainly reduce the volume of spam because
illegitimate senders simply cannot afford to get into
anyone’s mailbox,” said Van Alstyne in a written

“I would like to have access to software like (ABM).
Anything that would stop spam because I hate it so much,”
said LSA senior Dave Mallozzi.

But other students felt that ABM could create problems.

LSA senior Dana Ciccone said that she fears the system may have
some unintended effects, such as complicating e-mail communication
even further.

“It seems like something that looks good on paper but
nothing else,” she said.

The next step for the team may be to market their idea, but for
now, they said they simply want to provide an impetus for the
market and consumers to realize that they can both benefit.

“We’re just as tired of spam as anyone else,”
said Loder, “But if we received 50 cents for each spam, that
might be tolerable.”

Spam now represents about half of all e-mail traffic on the
Internet, according to Brightmail Communications, a company that
provides software for secure e-mail exchange.


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