The Marginal Value of A Piece of Spam

Opening bid: 0.25¢ — and another way of testing net neutrality: Postage Is Due for Companies Sending E-Mail

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world’s largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.

[…] In a broader sense, the move to create what is essentially a preferred class of e-mail is a major change in the economics of the Internet. Until now, senders and recipients of e-mail — and, for that matter, Web pages and other information — each covered their own costs of using the network, with no money changing hands. That model is different from, say, the telephone system, in which the company whose customer places a call pays a fee to the company whose customer receives it.

The prospect of a multitiered Internet has received a lot of attention recently after executives of several large telecommunications companies, including BellSouth and AT&T, suggested that they should be paid not only by the subscribers to their Internet services but also by companies that send large files to those subscribers, including music and video clips. Those files would then be given priority over other data, a change from the Internet’s basic architecture which treats all data in the same way.

This Tuesday the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing to consider legislation for what has been called Net neutrality — effectively banning Internet access companies from giving preferred status to certain providers of content. The concern is that companies that do not pay could find it hard to reach customers or attract new ones, threatening the openness of the Internet.

Networks, Surveillance and Access

Increasingly, Internet’s Data Trail Leads to Court

Who is sending threatening e-mail to a teenager? Who is saying disparaging things about a company on an Internet message board? Who is communicating online with a suspected drug dealer?

These questions, and many more like them, are asked every day of the companies that provide Internet service and run Web sites. And even though these companies promise to protect the privacy of their users, they routinely hand over the most intimate information in response to legal demands from criminal investigators and lawyers fighting civil cases.

[…] In short, just as technology is prompting Internet companies to collect more information and keep it longer than before, prosecutors and civil lawyers are more readily using that information.