Marginal Cost and Plausibility

      2 Comments on Marginal Cost and Plausibility

I don’t appear to have ever posted my observation about email spam, plausibility and low marginal cost. It’s probably not a very clever observation, and my not having read it anywhere else may be due to my not having any great interest in reading people’s observations about spam email. But it’s interesting to me.

Here’s the thing: when I get an email that purports to be from a bank that I actually have an account with, it’s plausible enough and I might consider opening it, which is, presumably, what the spammer is going for. But if I check my email and see two emails from that bank with the same subject line, it’s much less plausible and I am much less likely to open it. And if I get four emails, it’s not plausible at all, and if I get twenty I’m not even going to think about the plausibility of it. The thing that makes it conceivably profitable for the spammer—the low marginal cost of sending another email—is the thing that makes it less effective.

This came to mind again with a series of emails telling me that my computer had been hacked, my operating system infected, the camera activated and used, my taste in pornography critiqued, and if I did not send a specific amount of money in bitcoin to a specific wallet, then all my information would be sent to my contacts. I am assured, however, that a single payment would be sufficient incentive for the sender to delete the information. He indeed guaranteed it. The user kevon74 guaranteed it, as did ossie01, and also ricki95, and presumably all the other putative extortionists whose emails I already deleted.

And the thing is, even if I were to believe that my email had been hacked and that I was being personally blackmailed by an actual person, the sudden announcement that I was being blackmailed simultaneously by five or eight different people would persuade me that there was no point in paying any of them. Even if the multiplicity of emails didn’t make the whole thing implausible, it would make it unworkable.

In some sense, this is just why spam is called spam: the low marginal cost of automated emails means that they multiply beyond reason and the thing with the least spam in it is spam, egg, sausage and spam. But I think it’s slightly different: a good old-fashioned artisanal hand-crafted one-off con is still more efficient than the broadcast. Or so it seems to me—I’ve never seen any numbers on the actual revenues of this sort of thing.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “Marginal Cost and Plausibility

  1. Josh

    The thing I’ve heard that I find compelling is the idea that they’re not meant to be particularly implausible; they’re meant to hit people who aren’t very good at telling whether something’s plausible.

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      Indeed, the poor grammar and spelling are, in this view, intended to weed out anyone savvy enough to cause problems later in the scam.



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