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Ron Rivest Suggests Probability-Based Micropayments

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the for-large-values-of-maybe dept.

Encryption 336

Karl J. Smith writes "Rivest has solved the micropayments problem with encryption and statistics. You throw away some transactions so that you don't have to pay bank fees, and process the rest. Hiawatha Bray has written an article and Rivest's new company is PepperCoin."

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PANTIES.COM IS A SHAM! (-1, Offtopic) troll (593289) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333665)

I, as many avid young slashdot readers are, am a highly active member of the Panties Of the Month Club [] . With a catchphrase like .because lingerie is the gift that touches her when you can't. who wouldn.t be drawn into such an extravagant service?

Well as I recently found out, this club is a SHAM. The entire thing is preselected an entire YEAR in advance, as shown here:
January []
Feburary []
March []
April []
May []
June []
July []

August []
September []
October []
November []
December []

How can they lie to us like this you must be asking? I believe I have it all figured out. A simple whois returns

Lila Williams - Panty of theMonth (LA Williams (PANTIES-DOM)
Rural Route 3 BOX 75-B
Fairfield, IA 52556

Domain Name: PANTIES.COM

What.s so special about that? A simple Google search links Lila Williams with 577 different counts of terrorism(.Searched the web for Lila Williams terrorist. Results 1 - 10 of about 577.)
Those Israeli bastards are trying to hit us where our women are most sensitive . their vaginas [] .

This post will get modded down, Please redistribute it to help spread the word. We cant let the terrorists get to our vaginas. not anti-vagina [] , are you?


handybundler (232934) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333725)

I think it's terrible (like my karma) that you can't successfully buy panties. As a fellow panty enthusiast, and currently IP nbanned on many fronts at /., I extend to you my condolences. I do know that Victoria's Secret sells what you are looking for at reasonable prices.

oh, and on the subject of being IP banned, just becasue I created "Shit...that's a good _____" doesn't mean you editors need to lock me out for ever. I'm only going to use that nick rather sparingly, for some extreme karma whoring. Fill in the blank!!! Gosh, what else can I talk about today, lal lalalalllalalallallallalalallalla, fuckin a

Re:PANTIES.COM IS A SHAM! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333838)

I would like to take this opportunity to suggest that all FP-ers place the word "PANTIES" in all caps in the subject of their FP.

It is much easier on the eyes ;)

What a strategy (5, Insightful)

expro (597113) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333669)

Yes, that is the way to make micropayments take off: patent them.

Nice idea but... (3, Insightful)

zerosignal (222614) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333670)

Most people's number skills are so poor that they probably won't understanding or trust it.

Re:Nice idea but... (5, Interesting)

James_Duncan8181 (588316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333698)

It is a neat idea, but what does it do that a prepayment card does not? Think or similar. This also pays in bulk - the customers pay for the web currency and beenz pay the merchant for all purchases in one lump sum, so fees are not an issue.

Same old, same old?

So I put a donations link on my site (1)

James_Duncan8181 (588316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333676)

..someone decides to pay me, but the people I have my account with just decide to let it slide.

Mmm, tempting!

And who said you can't still do over people for VC?

This article misses out something ... (0)

snack-a-lot (443111) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333677)

... how much are the end users getting charged for this?

Are they getting charged 50 cents for each transaction, or are they often getting charged nothing, but 1 in 20 transactions they get charged $10?

This confuses me. I don't get how this is any better than the subscription thing. Sounds like you just have to subscribe to one central site to cover a lot of other sites - much like getting an MS Passport, only with payment for this one. Or how Visa centralises credit card transactions. Buffering up micropayments until they pay enough - doesn't Paypal do that already?


Re:This article misses out something ... (2, Interesting)

BadElf (448282) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333848)

After reviewing the FAQs on the Peppercoin site, it appears that the consumer will always be charged the 50 cents -- never the '$10'.

From what I can tell, what Peppercoin does is batch the transactions so that the total of all of them goes into *their* merchant account. I couldn't find out any info on how often they would distribute the funds to member merchants, but I'm sure the frequency of payments (triggered by number of total transactions or dollar amount) would be tied to merchant membership fees.

Just my $0.02US

Cool ! (2, Funny)

RyoSaeba (627522) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333682)

That's cool, it'll be a new way for a company to justify high losses: 'no sir, our product isn't crap, we are selling many many; we just are unlucky with Peppercoin, only getting useless tokens...'

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333683)

So, if I read that article correctly, I can hypothetically buy 20 songs for $10, and 19 are free, but one is $10.

So if I buy one the first month, and a $10 charge shows up on my credit card, I will be pissed, and never use the system again.

If I buy one the first month, and there is no charge, then I see how I can beat the system - just keep getting new accounts.

Sorry, Ron, I think you need to re-think this one.

Re:Huh? (0)

dj_paulgibbs (619622) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333718)

No, the consumer (in the example provided with the article) only ever pays $0.50.

Re:Huh? (3, Insightful)

russx2 (572301) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333751)

The impression I get is that this is effectively PayPal. The user loads, say, $10 into their account via a credit card. Pepper coin then pay the transaction fee (maybe $.25 or something).

Then basically Pepercoin, I assume, keeps a tally of how many items a given site sells. On every N-th transaction, they hand over $N to the retailer. This way the retailer only effectively needs to pay the $.25 (+ Pepercoin's markup of course) per 20 transactions of whatever.

So, to sum up, this seems basically like Paypal but reworded. You still can't use your credit card to make micropayments and you still need to have an account with Pepercoin, and for the retailer to accept Pepercoin, before you can make a transaction.

Unless I'm missing something this seems pretty useless. I thought the major factor with services with Paypal etc. was that users don't want to have to sign up with a 3rd party - it's just too much hassel.

Re:Huh? (2, Insightful)

insac (623145) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333845)

It seems to me that it is an optimized PayPal. I mean "merchant-side" optimized (they can "group" micropayments to save on transaction fee).

"I thought the major factor with services with Paypal etc. was that users don't want to have to sign up with a 3rd party - it's just too much hassel." You are already dealing with a 3rd party.. the Credit Card company; only you don't notice 95% of the times.

If Peppercoin succeeds in making themselves perceived as "transparent" to users, they could be succesful. Anyway, I guess that if micropayments becomes a rich business, Credit Cards companies will take the business in their hands.

Rivest is at it again (1)

YetAnotherName (168064) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333684)

I've got nothing against micropayments, but this guy is just sometimes too smart for his own pocketbook. I mean, doesn't he already have a solid gold house?

Why randomize? (4, Interesting)

archeopterix (594938) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333689)

Ok, randomization has its uses, but what advantage does it have over just waiting till the micropayments sum up to $10 and sending them then?

Re:Why randomize? (0, Informative)

porkface (562081) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333729)

The system will be short lived because people will know they can purchase 19 items and then never use it again. Or find a loophole with which to create new accounts.

Though I equate this to be better than the losses many e-companies are seeing from theft (or copyright infringement). And unfortunately, I think it is more appealing to your average schmuck.

Still, I like the random idea. I think another way to make it more acceptable to the masses is to assure them they won't get hit for $10 until they've purchased at least $5 worth of goods. I think as with all things now, retailers (and maybe banks) need to dangle some free carrots to get people to buy into the system.

Whatever algos are chosen, they need to allow people to do some fairly fine-tuned budgeting, and they need to have a way to weigh the random-ness to prevent that millionth customer from getting hit 10 times in a row.

I think with the right FAQ, this idea could be successful.

Re:Why randomize? (4, Informative)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333753)

Not so, the customer is always charged the $0,50 (in this example). It is the shopowner who will get $10 or nothing. If he sells a lot of items, probability dictates that his average take will still be around $0,50 per item.

I suspect that on the customer's end they will solve the micropayment problem by forcing the customer to deposit a minimum amount (say $10) into his Peppercoin account, rather than charging every nickel and dime he spends separately. The customers will not mind if they expect to be able to spend these Peppercoins on many goods and services. Thst is where the chicken&egg problem comes in: if there are only a few sites accepting these coins initially, no one will want to depost the minimum $10 to activate his account.

Re:Why randomize? (2, Informative)

hammy (22980) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333866)

On the peppercoin website they say they don't rely on aggregation, i.e. no $10 deposit... I think it must be that whether a payment is made is random for both customer _and_ merchant.

Re:Why randomize? (1)

James_Duncan8181 (588316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333755)

Umm...less bookkeeping/charges between merchant and payment authority (of whichever kind). Problem with this is that unless you prepay or have credit with the payment authority, they still have to bill you. A bank could make this a kickass system, but as I have mentioned elsewhere they have little to no interest in cutting revenue from their business customers.

that's exactly my question too (4, Insightful)

lingqi (577227) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333865)

I think if you randomize you will get a chance to fudge some data; I mean, if in the end your average price of item turns out to be like 49.68 cents averaged over long term, you will have a very unlikely chance of noticing this discrepency. especially most (ALL?) financial software rounds to the cent.

At the same time, the above is assuming that EVERYTHING is 50 cents. Now, imaging there are things costing different amounts of money, and calculating if papercoin is ripping you off that 0.3% becomes difficult if not impossible.

Now, of course, I can't quite figure out how does papercoin charges the consumer. That's really weird because THEY can't be hit with the 25c charge everytime either or they will go under; so they will either have to

1) act like a bank / paypal and have you keep a balance.
2) wait until your "sum" is large enough and charge it all at once.

both have serious problem.

Of course - this entire thing is really a credit card system problem, that can really only be solved by the credit card companies - but they seem to have no incentive to do so, so... we might be stuck here for a while.

Don't start it unless you want it. (2, Insightful)

anubi (640541) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333690)

Remember when they said that income tax was to be a very small sum for a very specific cause?

Once the means to collect it was in place.. see what happened?

Trust Peppercoin? (3, Interesting)

eddy (18759) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333691)

Sounds, from reading that short article, like the merchants must trust Peppercoin? Why should they?

Re:Trust Peppercoin? (2, Insightful)

tunah (530328) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333843)

The article was very vague, but knowing Rivest is behind this, and knowing how good crypto is at creating trustless protocols, I would bet that they don't have to.

Re:Trust Peppercoin? (2, Insightful)

trezor (555230) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333855)

Looks like anyone who want to use money needs to trust their goverment. Anyone who needs to use plastic-cards to pay with needs to trust their bank. So whats new? You'll be forced to trust someone anyhow.

Re:Trust Peppercoin? (3, Insightful)

ariels (6608) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333858)

Many merchants nowadays trust:
  • The government (coins, bills)
  • The banks (cheques)
  • The credit card companies (credit cards)
  • The phone company (e.g. to be able to verify credit cards)
  • ... and a supplier or two

They don't necessarily want to trust so many people. They just have to trust (some) people, or nobody will buy stuff from them.

RPN (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333695)

I urge you all to try RPN today.

Is that all you have to say on the subject? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333783)

What's a matter, your dick schrivelling up?

I urge YOU to call it postfix.

Re:Is that all you have to say on the subject? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333856)

I urge you to STFU. I bet you weigh 400 pounds and smell like fried pork rinds.

Re:Is that all you have to say on the subject? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333908)

Awww. Do these 1300+ posts belong to you [] ?

I must be stupid (1)

tarquin_fim_bim (649994) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333696)

Is this a lottery on whether you get charged or not? I'm sure that if I used it it I'd be to only one that has to pay $10 every time. The article doesn't make this at all clear.

Re:I must be stupid (2, Insightful)

kaosrain (543532) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333732)

No, it's a lottery on whether the merchant gets PAID or not. However, the assumption is that even if he doesn't get paid on your transaction, he'll get paid enough next time to make up for it.

Lottery (2, Interesting)

mvw (2916) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333907)

Is this a lottery on whether you get charged or not?

No, the customer get's charged.

But the term lottery is very good in this context. Let's look at the scheme from that point:

If a state organizes a lottery (at least here in Germany) it is obliged to pay out at least 50% of the money that came in from selling the lottery tickets. This payment occurs in the same random fashion like the pepper coins.

In reverse, a customer of a lottery can roughly except to win back about 50% percent of what he shells out (it depends on the time frame and how all the win money is distributed among different winning ranks).

The same holds for the merchants participating in that peppercoin scheme. Statistics is on their side. The more transactions, the smaller the error margins.

I would call the scheme a reverse lottery.

The critical point is of course the tuning of the propabilities in the win/loss one time pads that Rivest's company is likely to distribute to the client software. He can make money by having to low win probabilities.

As a participating merchant I would perhaps insist on a contractual margin - if I have N zillion transactions there should be guarantieed error margin. If my pepper coins are below that margin, I should get compensated by Rivests company, if I'm above I should pay back.

The general idea, to use statistics to neglect expensive detail, seems very good to me.


Can someone explain this a bit better? (1)

oasisbob (460665) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333701)

I understand the idea of using statistics to reduce the number of transactions with the same results, but I don't understand how Peppercoin makes up the difference. A credit card still needs to be billed in the end, right?

If I buy the $.50 music track online, I as a consumer still need to be charged $.50. The only method I can see to make this worthwhile is grouping the charges. ie. Peppercoin charges each consumer once a month/when a set amount is reached.

But how does this differ from a micropayment system without the statistical gimics? I don't quite grasp the advantage of using this token system. Merchants who are using Peppercoins as currency are already operating without credit card per transaction fees, so why does it matter how many tokens are redeemed through Peppercoin?

Obviously something is going on here, but I don't get it. Can someone clarify a bit?

Re:Can someone explain this a bit better? (2, Interesting)

James_Duncan8181 (588316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333728)

Unless you get billed in a $10 bulk by Peppercoin.

So we have *drum roll* another internet currency! Hoorah, the old ones did so well. Noone has the funds to get to critical mass now - you need a LOT of vendors to accept the currency for consumers to be interested. Not that VISA/MC would just sit there if you tried to get to this level.

See (oh, it isn't there?) for history of such schemes.

Re:Can someone explain this a bit better? (1)

reachinmark (536719) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333901)

So we have *drum roll* another internet currency! Hoorah, the old ones did so well.

Yes, but the old ones had to process and account for every micropayment - this system is a little more clever.. now you just have to process every 20th or so micropayment.. thus cutting your costs down to just 5% (at least for that part of the transaction processing costs).

Re:Can someone explain this a bit better? (1)

skillet-thief (622320) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333862)

I can't believe all you smart people aren't figuring this thing out.

The consumer gets charged every time (of course). The merchant doesn't pay a flat fee or a percentage to the Peppercoin. P-coin just has some kind of algorithm that allows them to directly pocket some of the transactions, rather than passing them on to the merchant.

I don't know what the advantage of this is, but then again, I didn't even RTFA!

Re:Can someone explain this a bit better? (1)

Cougar_ (92354) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333902)

The difference is, this scheme is patentable because of the statistical approach, that is the only benefit, and that's only a benefit to Rivest

PROBABLY based micropayments? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333703)

One thing for sure, they PROBABLY wont get my money.

Full text of article (2, Informative)

WegianWarrior (649800) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333704)

In cause we manage to /. the server

Solving the problem of micropayments

By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff, 2/17/2003

IT professor Ron Rivest has come up with a new way to throw away money on the Internet. With luck, it'll make him a fortune. Rivest is one of the three people who devised the encryption system that allows us to transmit our credit-card information safely over the Internet. The company that grew out of this work, Bedford-based RSA Security Inc., is one of the leaders in the field. He's a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Association of Computing Machinery. Put it this way: Rivest knows what he's doing. So what's all this about throwing away money?

Actually, it's a fascinating proposal for solving one of the toughest -- and smallest -- problems of Internet commerce. It's easy to buy a $20 CD online, or a $100 hard drive or a $20,000 car. But how do you buy something online when it only costs a buck or two?

This is what's called a micropayment, and it turns out to be remarkably difficult to do. Entrepreneurs have been banging their heads against this problem for the past half-decade or more, and with good reason. There are lots of desirable digital products that might sell like popcorn if there were a practical way to pay for them. Music, for instance. Some subscription services will let you download tunes at 50 cents apiece, but you have to pay a subscription fee as well. We're still waiting for a service that lets anybody drop by at any time, and purchase a single song.

This is because it costs so much to process a single financial transaction. Most Internet shopping happens with a credit card. The merchant selling the goods must pay a transaction fee to the credit card issuer. This usually amounts to a few percent of the sale price, plus a flat fee of 25 cents or so.

But this flat fee is the same no matter the size of the purchase. When the merchant is selling Tom Clancy novels at $30 apiece, the fee doesn't matter. If it's an MP3 of the latest single from Sheryl Crow, that fee will eat up all the seller's profits, maybe even put him in the red.

''You can't do small payments with credit cards,'' said Rivest. ''From the merchant's point of view, you probably can't do under $5 and make a profit.''

What's needed is a method that slashes the cost of the transaction. Enter Rivest, his colleague and fellow computer scientist Silvio Micali, and their new company, Peppercoin Inc., which plans to solve the problem with doses of encryption and statistics.

The service will be free to consumers, who sign up with Peppercoin and provide a credit card number. Now the user can go to any Peppercoin retailer and purchase a single, very cheap item -- an MP3 song priced at 50 cents, for instance. By clicking on a link, the music gets downloaded to the customer's computer. The merchant gets a Peppercoin -- a sort of electronic token that's got the customer's digital signature embedded in it.

What's the token worth to the merchant? It depends. Peppercoin uses an algorithm that assigns a value to the token. Actually it assigns one of two values. Either the token is worth some preset amount -- say, $10 -- or it's worth nothing at all. When the token is worthless, the merchant throws it away. When it's not, the merchant collects $10 from Peppercoin, even if the customer only spent 50 cents.

It seems utterly nutty until you apply this method to millions of 50-cent transactions every month. Maybe 5 percent of these transactions will be sent to Peppercoin, which processes them through the credit card system. The rest are thrown away. This keeps transaction costs way low. And the transactions that are processed have a value of $10 apiece, which brings in cash to make up for the 95 percent that were thrown away. Spread over millions of purchases, it all averages out.

But even if Rivest's math is correct, the success of Peppercoin is far from assured. The dot-com graveyard has a special section for companies like Digicash and Cybercent that failed to solve the micropayment puzzle.

''A payment system is a real chicken-and-egg problem,'' said Rivest. Consumers won't embrace the system unless lots of merchants accept it; merchants won't sign onto the system unless the customers are there. Peppercoin hopes to break the cycle by signing up some major media companies in time for its debut later this year.

Letting consumers buy hit music recordings for a buck or less, without charging $10 a month in subscription fees, could be just the thing to ignite the micropayment market. And if more consumers sign up for Peppercoin, more vendors will start offering products -- magazine articles, digital games, even those annoying cellphone ringtones. Many of these goodies will be items that are presently given away, because there's no efficient way to charge for them.

With Peppercoin, companies will be able to make us pay. And at the microprices made possible by his software, Rivest figures millions of us will be happy to let him throw our money away.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at

This story ran on page C4 of the Boston Globe on 2/17/2003.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company

Re:Full text of article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333910)

$30 for a Tom Clancy novel?!? Boy oh boy, some people have more money than sense.

Micropayments for trolls. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333709)

Cmdrtaco and Micheal "censorware" simms have come with with a new way to crush trolls. Every time you post a -1 troll, you pay 1Ââ. (microeuro). On average there are only around 100 troll posts a day, so it will take approximatley 10 days to make 0.1 eurocents from trolls. Of course, the real money is from selling mod points, which will cost $10 each, so pay up or get trolled!

Re:Micropayments for trolls. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333802)

I think this is called a 'salami technique'. It works by setting up an account that collects rounded off cents in ATMs. If successful you can make up to $90 a day.

PayPal? (1)

anubi (640541) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333710)

Ummm.. what is the problem with using something like PayPal?

Re:PayPal? (1)

mooZENDog (567187) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333773)

Ummm.. what is the problem with using something like PayPal?

I'm not sure that many large companies accept PayPal. Wasn't it more of an eBay thing, for individuals and SMEs? I also have heard they take something like 10% of the transaction, which is a piece of the pie that many businesses would resent handing over. The article also stated that this was for credit card transactions, where the cost of an individual transaction was quite high.

This seems an interesting idea though, but the main pitfalls are in consumer/business trust, and market takeup. I was talking to a colleague about those 'beanz' money-token things, which were around a few years earlier, and were supposed to take care of micropayments (wern't they?). They were everywhere, but just seem to have been a short craze. Whether this will go the way of beanz remains to be seen.

Re:PayPal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333905) []

I don't get it (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333712)

I gather that the event of a transaction to a vendor happens with a certain probability, and on vendor's side, law of large number sets in.

But what happens on consumer's side?

If I read one article per month, worth, say, 20 cents, do I pay 20 cents to Peppercoin with p=1 or 10 dollars with p=0.02? Consumer's transactions may be too low to obey law of large numbers.

Not to be the cynic? (2, Insightful)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333715)

But what is the difference of this and PayPal???? Ok there is some more math.

But I thought part of the problem was using PayPal is that PayPal is an external service that is not as recognized as Visa, Mastercard, or American Express (plus some others).

And this service does not seem to solve that problem for me. I thought when I started reading the article that it was going to somehow have some magic receipe for using my ALREADY accepted credit card....

Re:Not to be the cynic? (1)

James_Duncan8181 (588316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333737)

Methinks that VISA, MC et al do not exactly have a vested interest in helping merchants avoid credit card charges....

Re:Not to be the cynic? (2, Informative)

JimDabell (42870) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333768)

You throw away some transactions so that you don't have to pay bank fees
But what is the difference of this and PayPal?

There doesn't seem to be one... []

Trust is not only a matter of security (2, Interesting)

gounthar (212393) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333717)

The dot-com graveyard has a special section for companies like Digicash and Cybercent that failed to solve the micropayment puzzle.

So what makes Ron Rivest thinks he might be able to solve this where other failed?

A key success factor of this business is trust. But unfortunaly for non-geeks, trust is hardly based on transaction security, but merely on the wealth of the company.
Microsoft tokens won't have the same trust factor as Linux tokens (for example), and customers won't buy tokens that could well be worth less than nothing, if the market decides that way.

Would you really invest a penny (because that's what is's all about : invest money) in peppercoin?

When is the PGP version coming out? (1)

vnv (650942) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333722)

Pretty Good Payments sounds far better than some big black box at a RSA-like security company that hands out cash prizes to lottery winners based on some unknown set of algorithms.

I noticed the Peppercoin site did have any overt mention of a robust privacy policy... something that micropayments must include for people to actually trust it.

One can argue that RSA set back security for normal people by many years. Phil Zimmermann changed this with the open source PGP. Peppercoin sounds like the RSA of micropayments.

So I'm going to wait for Pretty Good Payments.

What about the bill? (2, Funny)

warrior_on_the_edge_ (605123) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333726)

Micropayments are ok

But what we REALLY need are micro bills

Ahem. BS. (1)

Thurog (592871) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333740)

Is this meant to be "product gambling"? Because the money still has to be collected from every consumer, unless you want to charge a whole lot of them $0 and a few $10 each. Credit card fees still have to be paid, in this case by Peppercoin, Inc.

Don't even try to tell me that Peppercoin sets up accounts for you to keep transactions rare and juicy. PayPal was faster on the draw.

MIT professor, huh? Well, can't wait to see what's next. Maybe a new, ultrasecure symmetric encryption?

Eh? (2, Insightful)

Stormie (708) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333741)

What is the point of a retailer collecting these PepperCoins, then sending them in, with 5% of them being worth $10.00, and 95% of them being worthless? If you're going to have a clearing-house, why the hell wouldn't you just have the retailers collect the PepperCoins and send them in for a guaranteed 50c each, but just not do it until you've collected at least 20 of them?? It'd have the same "avoiding credit card fees" effect, but without the stupid randomness which, even if it does balance out perfectly over lots of transactions, will completely turn off the vast majority of retailers.

Re:Eh? (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333857)

Other micropayment companies failed as they realized that the cost of processing(verifying, pay-up, etc.) individual return coins is very high. This method guarantee only 5% of those issued are processed. It'd significantly lower the cost and ideal for micropayment. (note that cost of issuing is not counted here as it's relatively low)

As you can see, collecting 20 coins wouldn't help lowering cost of processing individual coin because each coin must be processed. That's why they make use of the randomness.

But I'm not sure if they'd sucess because I could think of chances to fraud, but the idea still sound...

Er... (2, Interesting)

Zog The Undeniable (632031) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333742)

I don't understand this. Does it mean that sometimes my card will be charged, and sometimes not? If I buy just one MP3 (or whatever) online, could I be the unlucky Joe who pays for 9 other people too?

Re:Er... (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333869)

In order to make it work , both merchants and customers must not know the value of a coin. I think there's some method to enable merchants to know the value of a coin AFTER they received it, but that's not the hard part.

Russian roulette anyone (2, Interesting)

phrantic (630202) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333743)

This is a hard sell for all involved i think.
For the Merchant
"....That's right Mr. Merchant we will allow these anonymous customers to log on to your system you give them your products, and they can pay with our tokens that are worthless 95% of the time, but you'll be ok in the long run. Um no we are not like those other companies that are not around for the long run..."

As well as that what is the advantage to the customer?
I can see how the law of averages works (or works more quickly) for the Merchant, but picture the situation that I buy one item per month for 6 or 7 months @ 50 cents a go, but due to randomness I am included in the 95% of those tokens that are thrown away. Then on the 8th month I get hit by a 10 dollar charge for something that should cost 50 cents, and even assuming I remember I have had 7 freebies, I am still out of pocket. This means I have to keeping buying, and hope that I can get 10 dollars worth of stuff, and then get out before I get hit again for another $10. This then leads to abuse/gambling, how much stuff can I get without getting charged and then get out or quit?

Or am I missing something?

obfuscation (4, Insightful)

gotih (167327) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333744)

this looks like hidden advertising to me but i won't argue that point....

and it's based on 'patent pending technology' that is somehow acceptable by slashdotters (see here [] for more info)

this sounds like a lot of marketing hype. why not just have a company that processes micropayments in mass -- if i buy 10 songs for $1.00 each from 10 record labels during 3 months i should be charged $10 as soon as it is profitable to charge me, possibly at the end of the three months, possibly after my tab is at $5.00. i think this is basically what happens with peppercoin but in a more complex, mathematically obtuse way.

finally, what's up with all the hot women on the peppercoin page? it's like i'm supposed to be able to buy them with peppercoins.

Re:the women (1)

gotih (167327) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333780)

actually, i noticed there are several men there too.

but this marketing tactic, though hardly uncommon, unsettles me in this instance. this is supposed to be a financial institution and they fill 1/3 of the screen with hip, attractive models (some are actually disgustingly skinny).

whatever, i'm sticking with my first assumption that this slashdot submission is entirely a marketing ploy and i hope everyone involved with this company gets diarrhea and their car tiers go flat on the way to pickup medicine.

Re:obfuscation (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333782)

"and it's based on 'patent pending technology' that is somehow acceptable by slashdotters"

Yes it is, at least to me. Not all patents are bad; I am fine with the technological details (the encryption algorithm, process for randomness, etc) being patented. Ie. if you want to do a similar thing using different algorithms, you'd be allowed to.

It would be another matter if they'd patent the idea of Micropayments.

Re:obfuscation (1)

gotih (167327) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333860)

Not all patents are bad

<FLAME>yeah, you probably use windows too</FLAME>

but seriously, i don't agree with the current implementation of patents. they were intended to give a small inventor time to get a product to market but now they are just used to create a legal monopoly. i'd be more down with patents if they brought the finincial size of the applicant into question and set the length of the patent according to the amount of time expected for getting the product to market.

but i think what you are 'fine with' is the place for copyright which i have less of a problem with. copyrighting an algorithm is better. without seeing this patent (i checked, couldn't find it) i can't say how ridiculous it is. if it's like 'we patent micropayments based on amassing charges then charging credit cards en mass' i'm going to be pissed.

and my sig is only slightly tounge in cheek -- i don't believe in god.

Re:obfuscation (1)

Spunk (83964) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333873)

what's up with all the hot women on the peppercoin page

and the slashdotting begins...

Re:obfuscation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333900)


There's a weird looking guy under "merchant fag"...

This is what can happen when you cross academia with business...

I doubt that the article is correct (1)

mericet (550554) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333750)

Giving Rivest some credit, I guess he doesn't plan to do a PayPal with a gimmick as is apparent from the article.

I guess that he means that the token is random on both sides (also on the consumer side), which is a good idea when the token value is never more than a few dollars, but I doubt this would easily be accepted due to obvious reasons.

What's not to understand? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333760)

the procedure is *obvious*...

1) user buys $0.50 token from Rivest
2) user transfers $0.50 token to store
3) that token is *re-valued* at the store to either $0.00 or $10 (using the article's example)

IOW, the end user only put out $0.50 -- the store gets either $0 or $10 -- each token would have a 5% chance of being worth $10.

It's Your Telco, stupid. (2, Interesting)

chess (40930) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333762)

Nice solution, Ron.
Can I throw away some 5%-10% less invoices?

And by the way, Your Telco has a micropayment solution since ages. Your Mobile Operator also.
It's called phone bill.

Don't know were I read it several years ago:
"The (Business) Model of a (3G) Operator is the Business Model of a bank"


Open source supports slavery (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333771)

As I've been perusing Slashdot, I've noticed that many compare Microsoft to an "Evil Empire" and Linux to righteous "rebels" similar to those in the Star Wars sagas. However, I believe they've got things back-asswards here. Linux is much more like the rebels of the dastardly Confederacy of Southern states during the American Civil War. Many Linux, BSD, and other "alternative" Operating System users are dirty, unshaven, and smelly, much like most of the South was at that time. Their support of their strange version of "user's rights" are similar to the cry for state's rights espoused by the Confederacy. Their contempt for Microsoft's power is similar to the South's dissatisfaction and resulting jealousy of the North's industrial and commerical power. However, the most important issue (although it wasn't the focus of that war, despite what revisionist historians tell you) is the slavery supported by the Open Source movement. Much like the South's use of negroes for slave labor, the Open Source movement seeks to force programmers to code without any hope of financial reward for their efforts. Zealots make ridiculous claims that writing software is some kind of labor of love and one can easily envision apologist plantation owners using to defend their own terrible abuse of basic human rights. Aren't software programmers people like the rest of us (although that point may be debated, I do think that the same people who consider them to be inferior, not fully developed humans will be proven as wrong as the people who said that about negroes in the past). It's also easy to liken Bill Gates to Abraham Lincoln, the honest father figure leading the software community through this crisis with the righteous might of Microsoft being similar to that of the Norther states. What's needed however is someone similar to John Brown, the righteous man who helped set off the powder keg that eventually liberated the American negro population. The continued abuse of computer programmers' rights must end now, Microsoft MUST triumph in this most important battle!

Re:Open source supports slavery (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333810)

Maybe you need to talk to Rivest about your microdick. That may help everyone.

So I must trust their randomness generator? (1)

archeopterix (594938) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333775)

Ok, how do I know that their RNG isn't rigged? I am aware that there are secure protocols for gambling over the net, but will people trust the protocol? Its implementation? I am not sure.

Ok, a business plan joke:

0. Become Rivest.
1. Change the winning probability from x to x-0.0001%
2. Transfer the 0.0001% of revenue to a private account
3. Profit!!!

Re:So I must trust their randomness generator? (1)

Shimbo (100005) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333839)

how do I know that their RNG isn't rigged?

That's only a problem if you are a retailer. If so, you should (in theory) be selling enough that the fluctuations are small. And it really makes no sense to commit fraud by taking a (say) 1.0001% transaction charge instead of the agreed 1%.

Re:So I must trust their randomness generator? (1)

hammy (22980) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333850)

OR... Invent micropayment protocol, 10 years research.
Start new company, 1.7M dollars startup funding
Changing the odds so that you make Millions of dollars... Priceless :)

As I understand it... (1)

Sheriff Fatman (602092) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333779)

The 'angle' here is that, by reducing the number of transactions required for the merchant to collect payment, they're making it more profitable for merchants. At the moment, merchants can't flog things for 50c each using Visa, because the Visa transaction charges mean they actually make a loss on each purchase.

Thing I don't understand - Peppercoin claim if you only buy one MP3, you'll only be charged 50c.

"You will be billed on your credit or charge card for the amount you spend, and the merchants will be paid legal tender for the content they sell." [from the Peppercoin Consumer FAQ [] ]

So how can Peppercoin charge 50c to my Visa card without putting themselves out of pocket due to transaction charges? Or are they hoping I'll be an insignificant minority and that everyone's gonna use this thing so much that the transaction payments will become insignificant?

OK, Rivest's a smart guy and micropayment is a hard problem, but this just sounds like so much BS right now...


Re:As I understand it... (1)

mericet (550554) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333847)

The merchant FAQ [] carries a bit more information.

BTW, I agree with you here, makes no sense at all.

My understanding... (4, Insightful)

anubi (640541) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333784)

I make an assortment of purchases.. PepperCoin keeps an account with me and pings my CC with the total aggregate sum of my purchases through them on a monthly basis.. therefore my CC is not littered with 5 cents here, 17 cents there, etc. Basically, I see a charge of 78.13 (example). Ok, if I wanted to see what that 78.13 was for, I might log onto my account at PepperCoin and see the exact breakdown to the penny.

Okay.. from the merchant's side.. he does not wanna mess with trying to account for a 5 cent sale.. so lets calculate the a 0.005 probability ( thats 5 cents out of 10 dollars ) and assign that probability to a ten dollar token, that the token is any good. So, in effect, the merchant is gambling he is going to get paid - in this case, for the sum of 5 cents, he accepts a 0.005 probability he gets $10. Basically, its just like gambling, where PepperCoin is the "house". But over millions of transactions, statistics would approximate the same return to the merchant as if he tallied all the micropayments.. but the merchant does not have to worry with millions of tiny payments, he works with thousands of larger consistent payments. And is willing to accept the accounting simplicity as tradeoff against any probability error, as well as the overhead of the "house cut". This technique allows the processing of billions of payments without keeping detailed records on each... the only thing going through is the statistical averages of who gets paid what.

Well anyway, thats my *understanding* of how this thing works...

One neat thing is that it appears any identifying information to the purchaser would be lost in the "noise". comments invited.

Marketing (1)

chrissevdh (244668) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333786)

Sounds like an awfully potent marketing - user tracking system... All in the hands of one company... Big privacy issues it seems to me!!!

some information missing from the article ... (4, Insightful)

Lazy Jones (8403) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333788)

I have only read it quickly, but there seems to be no mention of the way PepperCoin will charge the customers. Since the PepperCoins' value is transferred from PepperCoin to the merchant and this transaction is "optimized", the other transaction (PepperCoin <=> customer) is important. It seems to me that this would only(?) work with a pre-paid amount (otherwise the customer would have to purchase frequently enough to be charged for several transactions at once), so the claim from the article: Letting consumers buy hit music recordings for a buck or less, without charging $10 a month in subscription fees, could be just the thing to ignite the micropayment market. is questionable.

Re:some information missing from the article ... (2, Insightful)

hammy (22980) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333846)

I don't understand it either... I think the article is misleading. On the Peppercoin website it says they don't rely on aggregation i.e. no upfront $10 fee. If that's the case then the only way I can see this system working is if it is in fact symmetric and both the customer only pays $10 some of the time and the retailer only recieves $10 some of the time.

Heh... (1)

VirtualWolf (159946) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333794)

The first thing that sprang to mind when I read the title was the Infinite Improbability Drive from HHGttG. :)

What's so difficult, people? (-1, Offtopic)

Kaz Riprock (590115) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333797)

Is it too early in the morning for some of you?

The beauty of this method (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333799)

is that the merchants and PepperCoin don't need to process each digital coin. Statistically the issuer only need to process(verify and pay-up) 5% of them. If you could see that the cost of issuing a digital coin is relatively low, then the cost of this micropayment method is only about 5% as before.

It's definitely a breakthru in micropayment as it lowers the cost of processing used digital-coins. In the past other micopayment issuers attempted to fix this problem by allowing reuse of paid-coin like we do with papernote. It doesn't work as you can see, because merchants always wants to cash in asap, and they don't care if that'd increase the burden of micropayment issuers, this is just not their bussiness.

One of the problem I can see is the fairness. Would that be one extremely bad luck dude keep getting null coin and compain about it? I know it's unlikely in statistical sense, but I DO keep drawing lousy trading cards so those people like me would worry. :)

Btw, those who compare it to Paypal can move along. First of all Paypal charges flat for each transaction and ALL payment methods requires you to prove your credit and your ability to pay back. Credit card is just one of the method for this purpose.

Time enough for Cash. (1)

BlackHat (67036) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333812)

He gets to keep and use the money until it hits the payout?

Nice one. Stretch it by splitting SKUs and more time to use them bucks.

How is this going to get off of the ground? (1)

kevinatilusa (620125) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333813)

The chicken and egg problem still seems to be around: In order for a company to be able to use micropay, it needs to have transactions occur in sufficient quantity that the law of large numbers applies and the payments average out to the correct amount.

If you're a startup looking selling something like MP3's online, however, then you will most likely start with a small customer base. Should you just hope for the best on those first few hundred transactions?

it's boolean: pay / not pay (1)

XPulga (1242) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333817)

the problem with any kind of online payments, at all, is that people living on countries other than the site's country (believe or not, the majority of the world population is not unitedstadian) are often in trouble to pay at all.

credit cards pose a secutiry risk (both for in-country and foreigners), independent of how good encryption is, there is always the human factor on the other side. The moment you give the card number, independent of the buy being $ 0.50 or $ 500, you are at risk. The micro-ness of the values only bring more risk of security look-overs.

If that's not enough, international credit cards are not easily available to everyone, especially young, income-less students, who are a considerable part of the "people who use the net" and are likely to be the main targets of such "content producers".

International bill sending poses more issues than any merchant is willing to face.

The only way for this to work is if a multi-national company sets up a station on every target country (US, Canada, all over Europe, probably South America and some places in Asia too, for most businesses) for selling net credit. Of course this company will be a monopoly, which isn't good; Moreover, politicians would come up with lovely absurd taxes on such services (allowing citizens to mess freely with the external debt is a bad idea, anyway), and the micro-payments would no longer be micro.

It may work for small segments and businesses, which is enough to get this yet-another-dot-com in the blue, but micro-payments aren't taking over the "content industry".

Re:it's boolean: pay / not pay (1)

Shimbo (100005) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333886)

credit cards pose a secutiry risk (both for in-country and foreigners), independent of how good encryption is, there is always the human factor on the other side.

No. You don't need to give your credit card number in a micropayment system. There are perfectly good (in one sense) micropayment systems in use today - premium rate phone lines. If I really wanted to I could use a contract-free prepayed phone, and not give *anyone* my card details.

perhaps the cc companies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333826)

and the cc transaction processing companies could lower their per txn fee, in the hopes that they make more money b/c of micropayments.

Small sample statistics problem? (3, Informative)

Kaz Riprock (590115) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333830)

What about the retailer that doesn't do a heavy volume of business through PepperCoin?

For example, if it's a 50/50 probability that a given coin is worth High or Low and you flip that coin 100,000 times, then within a minimal error, the coin will be 50,000 High/50,000 Low. But what about a retailer that only does 1000 or 500 or *less* per month.

Then, add on the fact that the PepperCoins being discussed aren't necessarily 50/50 but sound more like 5/95 or 1/99. If you closely examine any 500 of those 100,000 tosses earlier, you can probably find quite a few runs of 500 lows or more in a row. Suddenly, there are whole months that a retailer is going without payment to wait for that one time when they get compensated waaaay down the line. It seems a feast-or-famine proposal for the smaller retailer.

Re:Small sample statistics problem? (1)

BCoates (512464) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333894)

A retailer that only does 500 transactions/month for 50c each (5/95 of $10) is only making $250 a month, which is almost certain to not cover expenses.

I'm too tired to work the math out right now, but I doubt it's probable for a reasonably small account to off of the correct value by more than $100.

Benjamin Coates

Re:Small sample statistics problem? (2, Informative)

reachinmark (536719) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333896)

What about the retailer that doesn't do a heavy volume of business through PepperCoin?

Then they should probably re-think their business strategy.. we are talking micropayments here. Less than 500 micropayments a month isn't exactly big business..

you can probably find quite a few runs of 500 or more in a row.

Err.. no. Not really. 2 raised to the power of 500. That's pretty darn unlikely. Actually 1 in 3.2734*10^150 unlikely.

Can't you muppets read? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333831)

It clearly states on the site that the consumer gets charged and the merchant gets paid. Honestly, you people really should learn to fvcking well read!

The problem in some parts of the country... (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333835)


No, peppercoin.

That's what I said, peppercorn.

Sounds like pepperoni to me. (2, Informative)

mikeophile (647318) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333852)

The only way I can see this working is if Peppercoin aggrigates all of a customer's purchases into a single credit card transaction after it reaches a certain break-even point.

Only a certain number of customers will reach this break-even in a given time-period.

The value of a "winning" Peppercoin to a merchant would be this break-even amount, minus the credit card company fees and Peppercoin fees.

The odds of a merchant getting a valid Peppercoin would be based upon the number of break-even transactions made in say, a month.

If 10,000 total transactions were made in the first month, and only 100 people spent more than the break-even amount, say $12.50, the odds of a given coin being worth $10 would be 1/100.

It's a novel system, as previous efforts to deliver microcash required customers to buy tokens in advance. This system places the risk upon the merchants, who are being asked to gamble that people will use Peppercoins on a regular basis.

As a system like this matures, it could actually work, maybe.

These are not micropayments (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333878)

Micropayments are things like USD 0.0002 per Slashdot page. USD 0.50 is hefty. Let's call this minipayments or something.

The problem with real micropayments is user control. Users like to know how much they are spending, but they don't want to click a confirmation box on every downloaded file.

Technical people are terrible at marketing. (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333879)

Technically knowledgeable people are usually terrible at marketing. The Peppercoin web site is one of those "Click here to get the plug-in" web sites. (Last time there was a big security vulnerability in Flash, I uninstalled it from Mozilla.)

A play on words like "Peppercoin" is rarely successful marketing. People want to be able to trust a company. They don't want a small joke.

Verisign (1)

The-Bus (138060) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333887)

Well I'm still trying to figure out how I "paid" VeriSign by sliding a $20 bill inside my computer. I heard some snickering from the customer service rep that told me to do it but I figured it was in reference to a joke I didn't hear.

Critical point of friction (1)

Beautyon (214567) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333890)

Peppercoin accounts are backed by a bank account, usually via a credit or charge card.

That is the death knell. Any system that interfaces to credit cards or bank accounts but which doesnt have some utterly compelling extra feature is going to fail, especially when there are services like PayPal already dominating the market.

Any point of friction, like having to sign up for a bank account to spend money will instantly limit the uptake. Merchants will become disenchanted with the lack of customers, and stop converting their content to peppercorn files.

If opening an account is not a three field form, then forget it. This is the true problem of micropayments; how to give away the user accounts to create a huge spending population.

Bad business plan (1)

Ami Ganguli (921) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333893)

These guys are doomed simply because it doesn't really cost Visa/MasterCard/etc that much to process a transaction. They charge it because they can get away with it.

As soon as any scheme like this becomes even remotely successful, the credit card companies will change their pricing models and steal the market.

Bzzt... wrong! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5333898)

The correct solution is to batch micropayments together and fire them all at once, like pre-sorted mail. To reduce transaction count, the effective change in monies among large money holders is the only thing that needs to be computed (i.e., your individual monies are held by some big dogs), companies just need to keep micropayment logs to prove that they charged things and have automated random audits. With the invention of the Internet and other interconnected WANs, there is no execuse for transaction costs above .01, as packets are FAIAP free.

Banks are just being ghey when they charge fees to use/get you own money. That's how they make money, that and loaning your money out. Someone should come along and offer something w/o so many fees, oh yeah... paypal as a micropayment system. who needs this? just use PAYPAL!

For a real solution, a gov't-backed universal electronic money interchange standard w/ varying levels security and tracing needs to be adopted. the real problem with that is authenication (who's certificate authority) and trust (network, terminal, physical, etc).

if this guy found a way to stop spam, that *might* be news. /. == dot-com-promo-as-news-adserver; biggest racket in the world: banking & CCs.

Telcos could do better (1)

Mark Hood (1630) | more than 11 years ago | (#5333911)

(OK, so it's a contentious subject line :)

But Telecom companies already charge tiny amounts for services, they have the structure in place to do so... I get charged a minimum of UKP0.05 for every phone call I make.

So all we need is for the seller to charge the telco handling your Internet Connection (dial-up, cable modem, ADSL whatever).

So for example, I log online with BT and surf to I ask for a $0.25 MP3 file and checks my IP, spots I'm at BT and asks for the cash FROM THEM, NOT ME. (Insert foolproof authentication here, of course).

When I get my next monthly bill, I have an additional $0.25 charge on it, hopefully with some information regarding what it's for. I pay my bill as usual (relatively large numbers so it's easy).

Assuming BT and trust each other, they can agree to settle the bill for all BT's customers when it hits $10, $100 or $10,000 if they like. Or BT can pre-purchase 'tokens' from and use them up as and when their customers buy stuff.

Sounds exactly like PayPal, doesn't it? Except I trust my telco not to rip me off, I don't (usually) need to pre-charge my account, and the economies of scale mean it's easier to kick off - there are a huge number of customers for the average ISP, so they can all start trying this out without stuffing $10 in a Papercoin or PayPal account, which might be usable in all of 3 online shops.

Now let the flaming begin :)
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