A Penny For Your Spam

What if you could charge a spammer per message sent? That's the goal of MSR's Penny Black.

If you have a Hotmail account, you know spam. Intimately. But if Microsoft Research has its way, help may be on the way.

I ended up dumping my Hotmail account about a year ago, after losing the spam battle. I was deluged with more than 100 spams a day, and the filters Microsoft offered to help control spam didnt do a thing. All I know is since I signed up for a free Yahoo mail account last summer, I have yet to receive a single spam message (knock on my plastic keyboard).

Microsoft knows all too well that Hotmail is a spam cesspool. The company reportedly has plans to try yet again to tackle spam with new filtering technologies in MSN, Outlook, Exchange and other products.

But in the longer term, Microsoft is dabbling with another way to help curtail spam: make the spammers pay. In cash, in compute cycles, in memory cycles — somehow, some way.

The Microsoft Research team is dabbling with such a payment scheme. The result is a project called Penny Black.

Philatelists are likely to make the connection between Penny Black and spam. But for the non-stamp collectors in the house, the Penny Black stamp (introduced in the 1830s) unified British postage computation by shifting the cost of postage to the sender.

Spam costs users time and network providers money. Microsoft wants to shift the cost burden back onto the spammers. In theory, this could work in a variety of ways: by requiring senders to pre-compute how much they would be willing to pay to send a certain message; by charging senders to pay after they have submitted a message; and/or by requiring senders to "buy" a "ticket" that would pre-authorize them to send a message.

See Microsofts Penny Black Page

MSR is doing some prototyping on some of these schemes now. When will any of these be transferred to Microsofts MSN and/or other product teams? No word yet.