CentMail: Do Good, Fight Spam

Saturday, August 15, 2009
By dreeves


Our anti-spam project, Centmail, has gotten some press this week. (New Scientist, ABC News, Wired, Slashdot, Hacker News.) In a nutshell, you donate a penny to a charity of your choice for every email you send, with the donation showing up as a “stamp” in your email signature. Since spammers can’t afford to pay even just one cent per message, these CentMail-certified donations help distinguish humans from bots. The reaction is not wholly positive.  “I wouldn’t donate belly button lint for this lunacy,” says one commenter.  Says another: “Charging per email is a stupid idea, and must have been thought up by someone with not enough real work to do.”  Fair point, that last one. (It was Sharad‘s idea!) Of course CentMail is not exactly about charging for email. Still, many people have a strong aversion to mixing email and money, no matter how benignly. Plus there’s some cynicism about Yahoo‘s motives (it’s not like that, we swear!).

We’ve put up a CentMail FAQ in hopes of clearing up some misconceptions. For the nitty-gritty details, check out our technical paper.

(PS: More on John Langford’s blog, hunch.net.)


CentMail was created by Sharad Goel, Jake Hofman, John Langford, David Pennock, and Daniel Reeves, with design and engineering help from Tom Gulik, Tom Maher, and Sergiy Matusevych.

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