Is there no limit to the number of bad ideas floating around? KIRO Radio host Dave Ross suggests that the way to fight cyber crime is to charge for email. He asks: “WHY IS EMAIL FREE?”
You might write this off as an idle summer editorial, except it’s not summer yet. Ross starts off by quoting IBM’s Caleb Barlow to the effect that “cybercrime is out of control” (true), then makes this egregiously dumb proposal:
“Email should require a 49-cent E-stamp, so the Post Office can pay to set up an email fraud department, staffed by the smartest, meanest cyber-avengers they can find.”
To what end? To penalize the spammer “who sends out a couple million emails each day, because to send them, he’s gonna have to pay about a million bucks -- which will go toward throwing his sorry a** into Gitmo.”
It’s clear Ross isn’t talking only about cyber spammers, but about email marketers in general, Because they’d have to pay too. But you expect those kinds of cheap shots from someone attacking a rival ad medium (not the one that pays his salary).
Let’s push back just a little. First -- need we say it -- email is provided by private vendors like Microsoft and Google, not by the government-projected monopoly of the U.S. Postal Service. Why would the USPS, which doesn’t fare very well in areas where it has competition, be in a position to impose a 49-cent e-stamp charge on anybody?
As for the question of why email is free, you might just as well ask that about radio (some, anyway). Radio is free so that stations can sell advertising based on their ability to deliver an audience
Email is not so very different, except that has a far broader mission. Legitimate companies use it for customer service. They also deploy it to send advertising. But consumers can opt out of it when they don’t like it. And responsible marketers send unsolicited emails only to people who have opted in.
As for cyber crime, we agree that’s a serious risk. But consider the fraudulent advertising that appears on the air, much of aimed at the ill or the elderly. That’s pretty bad, too.
The danger is that ideas like these can spread around. As Bain Capital’s Ajay Agarwal told us only a day or two ago, email is the only channel that is both open and free.
Let’s keep it that way.