Beating spam into ploughshares

I suppose the miserable gits who inhabit the right of the political spectrum have to be right about some things. One of the things they always say is that anything that is free will be abused.

This isn’t true of the general population but it is true that a minority will abuse facilities that they don’t have to pay for. Most people will turn off taps even though there isn’t a penalty if they don’t. On the other hand, a few careless people waste an enormous amount of water.

The new levy on plastic bags hasn’t prevented anyone from using a plastic bag if they really want one but it has properly reduced their use (and misuse).

The advent of email will probably turn out to be as important to human communication as the invention of paper. But right now email has a major problem: spam.

According to British company Email Systems some 90% of emails are now spam. That’s an awful lot of annoyance.

Despite many new technical and legislative tools, spam is increasing. In America spammers are now being sent to jail but not fast enough. And certainly not fast enough to overcome their ability to shield their identities on the internet and to find new service providers to let them enter the big tubes carrying internet traffic around the world.

The Spamhaus Project, one of the major anti-spam organisations, is warning that spam might be about to undergo a massive increase because of new types of spam that actually take over your email programme.

As an example of what we’re up against Spamhaus has listed one Alan Ralsky from Michigan in the US as the leading source of spam in the world. Ralsky has hundreds of email servers around the world each capable of sending out over half a million spam messages an hour.

These messages can be routed and sent from many countries in the world so that they just need weak laws to enter the email system. Faced with this level of opposition supply-side solutions seem impossible.

Australia has brought in very tough laws against spammers and Spamhaus has reported that all the major Australian spammers have left the country. Of course, this means that Australians still get spam from outside the country.

Despite the best efforts of various states, the truth probably is that spam will continue as long as sending email is free.

The solution might well be to charge everyone a small fee to send an email, say 1 cent or even 0.1 cent per email.

At this very same moment the leaders of the richest nations are open to the possibility of a world tax to tackle poverty, disease and political instability and to implement the UN’s Millennium Goals by 2015.

Perhaps a levy on emails is the way to go. Progress on a Tobin Tax (a tax on currency movements) has been non-existent so that an email levy could be the world’s first tax, raising billions of euro for development.

Spam is now beginning to threaten the whole email system. Being free is part of the problem. A modest micro-fee on each e-mail could stop the spammers in their tracks and make a lot of people better off.