Economics of Spam

Who pays for spam?

The recipient argues this essay from the ACM pointed out to me by Matt (see his comment to an earlier post.) ACM Queue – The Economics of Spam – How did we end up with recipients paying the price? The short way to put it is that cost of writing to someone has gone dramatically down while the cost of reading has not gone down (as much.)

Another way to look at this is through games like “a href=””>The Prisoner’s Dilemma which are used to examine cooperation. While many people will choose to cooperate there are always those who will try to maximize their gains by defecting – spammers have defected from a massive game of cooperation called the Internet. Given a large enough pool of players you will always get defectors, especially if the cooperators can’t quite and go play with others. In the early years the Internet had a culture of cooperation and trust, as any new project has. Now defectors are changing it.

As Matt points out, spammers are acting rationally – they are trying to make money through advertising. Their defection may change e-mail when we give up on the current model, but in the meantime it is the recipients who pay.

So how could one design a project to test different spam fighting techniques? A challenge to any solution is that it may only work if others don’t use it – when enough people implement some type of filter, the spammers adapt (and they are good at that) and find ways to bypass the filters. A new technique can’t be said to work until enough people try it to provoke the spammers to try to bypass it.