One of the less spoken about opportunities that smart contract technology makes possible, is the ability to charge tiny fees for every action which has taken place. The promise of payment miniaturization, or micropayments as it has come to be known, allows the economies of scale to be altered in a way where potentially malicious and abusive use of services now becomes infeasible. In just the first quarter of 2015, well over half of all email traffic contained spam, reports Securelist, an agency for tracking cybersecurity trends. If every email delivered, every transaction sent, and every computation executed costs a fraction of a fee to perform, but is not zero, many types of spam which plague free services today could be eliminated altogether with a network infrastructure such as Ethereum.


Every computational step of the Ethereum network requires “gas” to function. Users who are creating smart contracts on the network must establish the STARTGAS and GASPRICE values which determine the maximum number of steps the transaction execution is allowed to take and the fee paid per computational step. In order to prevent infinite loops or reduce the inefficiencies of wasted resources, each computational step is measured in units of “gas”, with each step averaging a cost of 1 gas.

“The intent of the fee system is to require an attacker to pay proportionately for every resource that they consume, including computation, bandwidth and storage; hence, any transaction that leads to the network consuming a greater amount of any of these resources must have a gas fee roughly proportional to the increment.”

Ethereum Whitepaper

Paying per computational step could mitigate distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) and abusive spam when launched against a large number of targets at a near zero margin cost. The potential benefits of this pay-per-computation model for the mitigation of network abuse cannot be understated.

Previous Proposals For Ending Spam

Previous proposals for the elimination of spam have been numerous, but none have been entirely successful. Venture capitalist Paul Graham proposed a “Penny per Mail” implementation where users would be charged a small fee for every message sent. “There are various ideas floating around for charging some small amount per email sent.” he states, “If it cost even half a cent to send an email, spam wouldn’t pay, and would disappear.” The proposal is not without flaws however, as there would be no incentive to be an early adopter for such a service, setting up a mail server would require a line of credit, and company messaging servers would increasingly become a target for cybercrime.

A definitive solution to end spam may not yet have fully presented itself. However, what remains clear is that blockchain technology provides an interesting new set of tools for altering the economic models of today that spam and other network attacks rely on. If emerging technologies such as Ethereum can disincentive wasted resources and abusive behavior of services, users could find themselves operating on an internet free of spam and denial-of-service attacks altogether.


Travis Patron

Travis Patron is the author of The Bitcoin Revolution: An Internet of Money, a seminal publication in the digital money space which outlines the basics of the bitcoin payment system. As a public speaking authority, he regularly speaks to audiences on the economics & industry trends of bitcoin.

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