Mitigating the Tragedy of the Digital Commons: The Problem of Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail
Oleg V. Pavlov
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) - Department of Social Science & Policy Studies
Nigel P. Melville
The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan
Robert K. Plice
San Diego State University
Communications of the Association for Information Systems, Vol. 16, pp. 73-90, 2005
The growth of unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) imposes increasing costs on organizations and causes considerable aggravation on the part of e-mail recipients. A thriving anti-spam industry addresses some of the frustration. Regulation and various economic and technical means are in the works. All anti-spam measures aim at bringing down the flood of unwanted commercial e-mail. This paper contributes to the understanding of the UCE phenomenon by drawing on scholarly work in areas of marketing and resource ownership and use. Adapting the tragedy of the commons concept to e-mail, we identify a causal structure that drives the direct e-marketing industry. Computer simulations indicate that although filtering may be an effective method to curb UCE arriving at individual inboxes, it is likely to increase the aggregate volume, thereby boosting overall costs. We also examine other response mechanisms, including self-regulation, government regulation, and market mechanisms. We find that, of the various countermeasures, filtering appears to be the best currently available but that none are a satisfactory solution. The analysis advances understanding of the digital commons, the economics of UCE, and provides practical implications for the direct e-marketing industry.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 22
Keywords: Unwanted commercial email (UCE), SPAM, email marketing, markets for attention, information overload, tragedy of the commons, system dynamics, simulation
JEL Classification: D62, H41, K23, L86, L96, Q22Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: July 26, 2005
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