CentMail: Yahoo’s “new” idea to stop spam

First of all, the idea is not at all new. Bill Gates talked about a method to pay a very small fee for each sent email in 2004, but the idea proved to be not realistic. Yahoo’s CentMail does nothing else than to revive this idea in a new form: each sender pays 5$ for 500 virtual stamps and the money goes to a charity organization at user’s choice (a preselected list of charity organizations will be made available). Each email sent uses a unique virtual stamp plus a signature to promote the service. CentMail guarantees that the stamps cannot be faked nor reused, practically trying to destroy the business model of the spammers by making the sending of the emails too expensive for them.

So, one may ask : where is the catch? Will this idea really be the end of spam?
Of course not.

CentMail and Yahoo acknowledge this in their FAQ by providing answers to many legitimate questions. This is just a charitable twist on the old idea of email postage stamps which is simply not realistic because it hopes that everybody will pay. Of course, this is not going to happen, so this approach fails from the start.

CentMail says that the sender will only pay if the email is being received and read by the intended recipient.

What will happen to the massive mailings sent by commercial organizations? Will they accept to pay millions of dollars per year only because they send commercial email? Or, will an email notification service or a mailing list accept to pay for every notification it sends you? Of course not. The solution to this problem is to whitelist this category of senders (as CentMail suggested in their FAQ).

This means that the same rules do not apply for all email senders. The argument for this is that people and organizations donate anyway a lot of money per year to charity, CentMail being just an intermediary for this money.

As a conclusion, I have to admit that from time to time is nice to see an idea that wants to turn the world upside down in order to make good things. I like the idea, but I do not think that any user would ever pay for something that has been from the beginning free and that is sending emails for free!

Sorin Mustaca
Manager International Software Development