Remember setting up your first email account? I know I do, it was a yahoo.com account, and I still have access to it today. The email will always be a bedrock of the internet communication stack, but man, can it be annoying to manage an account. The longer you hold an email account, the more of a chance you’ve doxxed that email. It could have been a competition you signed up for, a survey you completed. You posted it on a classified site.
You used it to sign into an unsecured website that leaked its user contact list, you commented on a blog using that email address, or you used it in a forum.
Regardless of your slip-up, once your email address falls into the hands of spammers, your inbox can and will be continually trashed. Who among has not received a mail from the Russian beauty next door Anastasia, who wants to “send you an erotic photo” or had a Nigerian prince ask you to help him out with a bank transfer.
I know I have, and I am not alone.
Some 320 billion spam emails are fired off every day, and 94% of malware is delivered via this medium? Yes, over half of all global email traffic is spam. According to Google, its Gmail service blocks more than 100 million phishing emails daily, with 20 million leveraging trends like Covid. Yes, spammers are always looking for a new trend or gimmick to get you to open their emails, click through and fall for some other trick.
If you’re using an email service like Gmail, you’ve probably got a spam inbox set up by default, while those of us with hosted email addresses have to set this up ourselves, which don’t offer the filtering that Google can provide due to its extensive data mining.
Regardless of the email service you’re using, spam can find you, and when they do, it can be relentless.
What are email spam filters and how do they work?
Spam filters are used to identify dangerous incoming emails from attackers or marketers. Attackers use spam emails to get you to click on something, it could be a selling you something, or they sold traffic to someone else, or something more malicious. Spam filters are pre-programmed to identify certain behaviour and mark off those emails that flag its rules and move it to spam.
Spam filters come in different formats, namely:
- Content filters
- Blacklist Filters
- Header Filters
- Language Filters
- Rule-based Filters
- Bayesian Filter
Each format provides another layer of protection, but spam filters are a reactive method, and as spammers find ways around them, they have to continue to play catchup.
Who would use email spam filters?
Basically, all internet email users would find a service like this valuable, however, some will find it more valuable than others. Email accounts for businesses, freelancers, and remote workers who tend to share their email online via social media or their website tend to attract spammers. Their email address is either sold along with lists or scraped from the net and added to spam lists.
While we rely on spam filters now, it’s easy to get caught out, one could slip through and because we’re not used to scanning emails ourselves we could fall for something more sinister than 20% off at your local pottery store. Email spam isn’t simply annoying marketing emails, it could be phishing attacks, scams, ransomware malware, or malvertising.
When you consider how much value and sensitive information we keep on our devices and email accounts, then adding an additional layer of protection to your private or professional email address, hardly seems like overkill, in fact, it seems pretty rational to me.
Why email paywalls are better
Instead of having to block users one by one or keep changing spam rules, you could filter out emails that don’t see reaching out to you as valuable. You also have more control with a paywall filter, you can add contacts to your whitelist to bypass the paywall so it keeps your contact circle manageable from your side.
In addition, if you’re still getting spam, you can continue to raise the price to reach out to you, or set a rule to price up certain types of emails so that you either avoid them or profit from them. Should spam get through, it would be a small amount and deleting it knowing you’re keeping their sats would be quite the satisfying feeling.
How to set up an email paywall with bitcoin
Earn.com offered users the ability to add a paywall to their Gmail and pay via their custodial service, but this option was shut down after Coinbase acquired the company.
If you’re a Strike user you can leverage the Reacher service.
- Sign up for a free Reacher email address that forwards to your actual email address.
- Someone sends an email to your Reacher email address.
- They get an email from Reacher requesting a Bitcoin tip to ensure you see their email.
- They get directed to the Reacher website to pay the tip.
- You receive an email from Reacher with their message.
- You can reply to this email to respond to them.
Note: Strike is only available in the US and El Salvador
While this is a cool feature, it doesn’t really solve the problem if you’re using an old email address. You’re merely creating a public address filter that people would have to use to contact you. This can limit spam going forward but doesn’t exactly stop spam if your actual address is already out in the wild.
BTC pay server
If you have your own website, you could set up a form using BTC Pay. The server would store the query and only release the message to your inbox once payment has been made via your BTC Pay server. If you would like detailed instructions you can find a guide by Jameson Lopp here
If you have a Gmail account, you could set up a filter using a script known as Elephant Grass. If you would like detailed instructions you can find a guide by Jesse Powel here
Paywall improvement I’d like to see in the future
Since the launch of Lightning Addresses, which looks similar to an email address has now started to roll out with popular wallets, I’d like to see future bitcoin wallets having the ability to attach an email client to those LN addresses. That way users can receive messaging and sats via the same address on the front end, so it’s a seamless process for both parties.
Now if you can receive emails and satoshis to the same address, it would be a natural evolution to include the option of having an email filter that charges sats should you wish to send a message to this address, or you have to include your email with a minimum satoshi payment set by the Lightning wallet owner.