The Economics of Spam
We estimate that American firms and consumers experience costs of almost $20 billion annually due to spam. Our figure is more conservative than the $50 billion figure often cited by other authors, and we also note that the figure would be much higher if it were not for private investment in anti-spam technology by firms, which we detail further on. Based on the work of crafty computer scientists who have infiltrated and monitored spammers' activity, we estimate that spammers and spam-advertised merchants collect gross worldwide revenues on the order of $200 million per year. Thus, the "externality ratio" of external costs to internal benefits for spam is around 100:1. In this paper, we start by describing the history of the market for spam, highlighting the strategic cat-and-mouse game between spammers and email providers. We discuss how the market structure for spamming has evolved from a diffuse network of independent spammers running their own online stores to a highly specialized industry featuring a well-organized network of merchants, spam distributors (botnets), and spammers (or "advertisers"). We then put the spam market's externality ratio of 100 into context by comparing it to other activities with negative externalities. Lastly, we evaluate various policy proposals designed to solve the spam problem, cautioning that these proposals may err in assuming away the spammers' ability to adapt.
Volume (Year): 26 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 (Summer)
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References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Shyam NMI Sunder & Matthew A. Cronin & Robert E. Kraut & James Morris & Rahul Telang, 2002.
"Markets for Attention: Will Postage for Email Help?,"
Yale School of Management Working Papers
ysm301, Yale School of Management.
- Shyam Sunder & Matthew Cronin & Darrin Filer & Robert Kraut & James Morris & Rahul Telang & Proceedings the, 2002. "Markets for Attention: Will Postage for Email Help?," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm394, Yale School of Management, revised 01 Oct 2008.
- Loder Theodore & Van Alstyne Marshall & Wash Rick, 2006. "An Economic Response to Unsolicited Communication," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 6(1), pages 1-38, March.
- Van Alstyne Marshall W., 2007. "Curing Spam: Rights, Signals & Screens," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 4(2), pages 1-4, April. Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)