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Text Messages To Replace Stamps In Sweden 249

Posted by samzenpus
from the mobile-licking dept.
99luftballon writes "Sweden and Denmark are running tests on replacing stamps with text messages. The writer sends a text message to a central server, which bills for the stamp and returns a code to be written on the letter. It's an interesting system but it better have very good security. Could this be the end of stamp collections and philately?"
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Text Messages To Replace Stamps In Sweden

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  • by emj (15659) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @03:52AM (#35440190) Homepage Journal

    Kinda makes me wonder if I should read more newspapers here in Sweden.

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @03:55AM (#35440218) Homepage

    The code has to be a certain length in order to be unique, it has to be complex enough to take a while to crack, but write down one digit wrong (or slighly unreadable) and the code is invalid.

    • by rastilin (752802)
      Yeah, there are a few downsides. On the other hand it's more efficient than possibly losing stamps or not being able to send a letter in time because you have to detour to get more stamps. Personally my biggest problem is that it requires yet another centralized server and the phone system. When we lose power; the local stores can still accept cash, unless they keep printing stamps, there won't be a fallback like that here.
      • by seifried (12921)
        Uhmm. Unless the power/phones are out for over a day the inherent delays in sending physical mail will vastly outweigh the time you spend waiting to get a "stamp". Personally I like what we have in Canada, "permanent" stamps, they're good forever. http://www.canadapost.ca/cpo/mc/personal/productsservices/atoz/permanentstamp.jsf [canadapost.ca]. So no worry about needing to buy those one penny or whatever stamps the next time rates go up.
        • by Retron (577778)
          We invented those in the UK 20 years ago, they've called Non-value Indicator stamps and they're responsible for the end of seeing different stamps on letters every month: these days it's just a generic "2nd" and the Queen's head.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's already proven technology here. The facts speak for themselves. You can buy subway, train, and bus tickets via SMS here, and it works pretty well. I don't see how applying the same concept to mail could go wrong. No one is going to be writing the numbers down, instead people will just show their cell phone screen to the post office agent, who will then type in the code in their system and validate it. Think of it as a unique barcode, like the ones you get on e-tickets when you fly, or when you buy tick

      • by aliquis (678370)

        Except you used to leave letters in a box, not at a post office.

        Not that I see much purpose for sending letters at all nowadays. Regardless we kinda don't have any post offices longer either, just "service offices" at random stores and what not but I guess you could leave the letters there.

        But if you have to go there with the letter and show the SMS it's not that much different from buying a stamp. Somewhat more convenient but not as convenient as dropping in the box I guess.

        • by Svippy (876087)

          Except you used to leave letters in a box, not at a post office.

          Not that I see much purpose for sending letters at all nowadays. Regardless we kinda don't have any post offices longer either, just "service offices" at random stores and what not but I guess you could leave the letters there.

          But if you have to go there with the letter and show the SMS it's not that much different from buying a stamp. Somewhat more convenient but not as convenient as dropping in the box I guess.

          Who said anything about not being able to use postboxes? I mean, wouldn't it be the same issue if you posted a letter without stamps or correct amount of stamps as posting a letter without or with an incorrect code? Your letter will either just get returned or trashed.

      • No one is going to be writing the numbers down, instead people will just show their cell phone screen to the post office agent, who will then type in the code in their system and validate it.

        I do send letters from time to time, and I practically always put them in a postbox on the street, having bought packs of stamps previously. If I were going to go into a post office, why wouldn't I just give the post office agent cash? Where is the advantage in a purchase over the phone? For a train ticket, you might be concerned about the time (arriving at the station with just enough time to make the train, and not wanting to fiddle with a ticket machine). At the post office, whether you deal with a p

      • Swedes also use SMS to do their taxes too.
        http://www.protexting.com/The_Swedes_use_SMS_to_file_taxes_in_Sweden-faq-133.htm [protexting.com]

        Now. Where are my picket signs so I can go announce how much socialism sucks.

      • You can buy subway, train, and bus tickets via SMS here, and it works pretty well. I don't see how applying the same concept to mail could go wrong.

        It wouldn't work in the United States, where for people without texting plans, the carrier charges as much for a round-trip text message as first-class letter postage itself. The 20 cents to send and 20 cents to receive would be far less than the price of a monthly subway, train, or bus pass.

    • Write down one number of the address wrong and your letter is also "invalid" in the sense of going to someone else. If anything I would imagine less error for copying down numbers (which you will presumably double-check) rather than sloppily dumping something out of your personal memory. The code doesn't need to be any more "complex" than a credit card number, which is basically the function it's serving (except more secure since it is one-time use). I am not sure how much effort the criminal industry is

      • by Kjella (173770)

        You have no idea how often people would get their credit card number wrong if there wasn't a) a check digit and b) if it fails, you get an instant response. Mail typically gets there even if you typo the zip code as the postal office will typically work it out as long as the street and city is correct. Or if you misspell the street. Obviously they don't know what house number you live in, but the mail service is pretty forgiving.

        Typo the payment code? You'll never know until the recipient gets it with an "i

        • Credit card numbers are kind of terrible to begin with, though. Assuming these postal codes codes use both letters and numbers (not case sensitive) we have already eliminated 6 characters from the total number that have to be typed in to generate the same size namespace,* and greatly reduced the probability of confusing repeated characters.

          The postman could just as easily check your code when he picks up the mail (thank you portable electronics) as at the post office.. In any case he should attempt to ret

        • by qc_dk (734452)
          Well, my experience is that the Danish postal service is pretty forgiving about the payment too. I'd forgotten to put a stamp on a letter, so I got a letter from the post office with a photo of the letter proving that there was no stamp on it. They reminded me to put one on in the future, but they would deliver the letter at no charge this time.
    • by the_olo (160789)

      "take a while to crack"? How do you exactly imagine performing cracking in this context? Cracking a code in the way you imply (brute force?) involves lots of attempts.

      When faced with interactive network login, this is feasible - the attempts are cheap, you can automatically perform millions of login attempts at practically no cost.

      In this context, you'd have to send millions of identical physical letters until one gets through. How do you imagine going that? Getting a truck of blank letters, using an army o

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        I meant "cracking" as in "cracking the algorithm".
        If the codes were generated by an algorithm, it would be possible to discover the algorithm and generate valid codes.
        Brute force is obviously not a reasonable option, so why you would jump to that conclusion instead of the far more obvious and usable alternative is beyond me.

        • by tepples (727027)

          If the codes were generated by an algorithm, it would be possible to discover the algorithm and generate valid codes.

          You know the algorithm. You don't know the private key.

          • by the_olo (160789)

            If the codes were generated by an algorithm, it would be possible to discover the algorithm and generate valid codes.

            You know the algorithm. You don't know the private key.

            Not even necessarily that. They may securely, randomly generate codes and store them in their database for validation. No key, no derivation, the code is a completely random value.

            In such a case, the only possible attack would be against their database.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Pre-printing envelopes with individual QR codes that you scan with your phone and then send to the central server to activate that QR code as postage would seem to be an easier solution for the consumer.

      • by narcc (412956) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @06:16AM (#35440878) Journal

        Pre-printing envelopes with individual QR codes that you scan with your phone and then send to the central server to activate that QR code as postage would seem to be an easier solution for the consumer.

        How is that an easier solution for the consumer? Rather than needing a common dumb-phone, the user would need a smartphone with a camera, QR code software, and the knowledge to put it all together.

        It seems like your pre-printed QR code system would only benefit the automated machinery at the post-office.

        Besides, if you were planning to go through all the trouble to pre-print codes on the envelopes, why not just add the cost of postage to the cost of the envelopes and skip the whole 'activation' bit?

        Better yet, since we're printing things, why not print a whole bunch of codes on a large sheet instead of on individual envelopes? Just Image: If you perforate the sheet and add an adhesive backing, the customer need only tear off one of the "tokens" and stamp it to an inexpensive envelope.

        To save some extra cash, instead of unique codes (and a monstrous computer system to keep track of them all), we could make all the "tokens" uniform. Like a picture -- We could even have more than one. For security, we could add some luminescent ink or micro-printing.

        If your token pictures are interesting enough, I'll bet you'll have people buying whole sheets every time you issue a new image just to collect them. That's basically free money.

        Yes, I think that's a much better idea.

      • by shawb (16347)
        At that point you just pre-print the postage right on the envelope, and pay for it when buying envelopes.
    • Danish post will start the same concept. The codes will be read by handwriting-capable OCR and will only be valid 8 days.
      Interesting experiment...
    • by PhilHibbs (4537)

      They could use a subset of the alphabet containing characters that are hard to confuse with each other, e.g. if they use C then they should not use G, same for B and D, O and Q. So even if you only have, say, a 16 letter alphabet, a 5 character code has a million possibilities. Make it a 10 character code and you could even include redundancy to cope with a single character being illegible.

    • by AC-x (735297)

      The code has to be a certain length in order to be unique, it has to be complex enough to take a while to crack, but write down one digit wrong (or slighly unreadable) and the code is invalid.

      Do you actually have a source for any of that?

      Code length - it doesn't have to be a GUID, they could easily recycle codes after a year or so once used. The public cycle hire here in London makes do with daily 5 digit codes made up of just 1, 2 or 3.

      Complexity - has to take a while to crack? What's to crack, some super secret code?? You may as well just create a random text string and store that in a database along with the payment information.

      Invalid codes - or maybe they could just come up with a fault tol

    • by chrb (1083577)

      write down one digit wrong (or slighly unreadable) and the code is invalid.

      Not necessarily true. I would assume that they built some redundancy in to the actual code. Also, who says that the code is numeric? I would assume it is alphanumeric, as the OCR systems are already capable of reading alphanumeric addresses etc.

    • by Timmmm (636430)

      Sounds like you've never heard of forward error correction. And if they implement this using completely random codes, it would be impossible to 'crack'.

    • by rabtech (223758)

      The code has to be a certain length in order to be unique, it has to be complex enough to take a while to crack, but write down one digit wrong (or slighly unreadable) and the code is invalid.

      It does need to be unique but you are incorrect about the other requirements.

      The code can include parity such that it can be deciphered even with an incorrect digit. Just off the top of my head: I presume you would only use one of any potentially confusing character sets (eg: number 1 but not L or I (capital i); zero, not the letter O; etc). Then you'd need to figure out a distribution of bits that allowed you to reconstruct an original code if one or two characters are off... for example, let's say each ch

  • Fraud (Score:4, Interesting)

    by StripedCow (776465) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:03AM (#35440252)

    Just wait until a postman copies the code to a package of his own, and just destroys the original package.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      That's quite a high risk for few krona worth of postage.
    • by seifried (12921)
      or he just cuts the stamps off and glues them to his package. Exact same problem we have now potentially. I can't imagine it's a real issue (postmen thieving stamps off of packages and then destroying them to send their own packages for free.... uh yah).
      • by Hooya (518216)

        In some third world countries, if you're mailing anything international via the postal service, it's very advisable to stand in line and get the stamps stamped in front of you instead of dropping your envelop into the mailbox. Because of the (relatively) high cost of international postage, it is worthwhile for the postmen there to peel off the stamps, throw away your envelop, and re-sell the stamps if the stamps aren't already stamped. It took me a minute to figure that out when I saw a bunch of foreigners

    • Just wait until the postman strips the stamps of your mail and glues them on his own package and destroys yours!!!

    • by Per Wigren (5315)
      Just wait until a postman steal your stamps and kill your children! We must stop using stamps, think of the children!!!
    • Or as the local radio station pointed out this morning...just go to someone's mailbox, pull out all of their outgoing mail and use their codes on your letters.

    • by Asic Eng (193332)
      If you have postmen so corrupt they destroy packages in order to get stamps ... you have a much bigger problem at your hands. Besides - any postman emptying a postbox has this possibility right now. Even without leaving a trace, unlike in your scenario where the number might be known by the person whose package was destroyed.
    • This is avoidable with a well-engineered system. To make it difficult for a scammer to generate a viable code, they could require that the user supply some information specific to the package, such as the destination zip code and the date that it is being mailed. Then, the postal service could concatenate this info with a short randomly-generated package ID and sign it with a private key to generate a code.
      The post office could then verify whether the code matches the characteristics of the package of its

      • Ok, I guess the postman (or anyone else) could just find a new package with the same destination zip code as his package in order to defeat my suggested system. Their are further measures that could be taken to prevent this, such as incorporating an account number that is associated with a specific sending address in the code and maintaining a database of all packages sent during the day to prevent a code from being used twice in the same day.

        Also, what 91degrees said. Scamming the postal service is a lot

    • by rabtech (223758)

      Just wait until a postman copies the code to a package of his own, and just destroys the original package.

      How is that any different than my current postman cutting the unmarked stamp off my envelope, throwing it away, then gluing that cutout onto his letter? (Hint: it isn't).

      People generally find out when their letters don't arrive so its not like you can hide that sort of crime very easily. Risking prison to save on a postage stamp seems like the height of stupidity... I'd prefer any moron of that caliber try it immediately so we can quickly identify them and remove them from society.

      Short Version: For your fi

  • Poststamps are anonymous, sms certainly is not. I believe that, doing it like this is expensive and traceble. Then again i have not send any snailmail in a long, long time. So i should not be the one to cry about it. Zokahn
    • by zill (1690130)

      Poststamps are anonymous, sms certainly is not.

      Most telecomms have a web interface [wikipedia.org] for sending sms to their customers. Using that interface through a dozen proxies is probably as anonymous as it gets.

      Stamps, on the other hand, will always leave a money trail if you buy them.

      • You can buy stamps with cash. It's not like they'll run a background check or enter you into a Stamp Owner Registry. :)

      • by PhilHibbs (4537)

        Most telecomms have a web interface [wikipedia.org] for sending sms to their customers. Using that interface through a dozen proxies is probably as anonymous as it gets.

        Stamps, on the other hand, will always leave a money trail if you buy them.

        And how, exactly, are you going to get the generated code to write on your letter if you send the SMS through an anonymous service? And I don't think it's practical to track a stamp back to the supermarket that I bought some stamps at.

      • by tepples (727027)

        Using [a web to SMS gateway] through a dozen proxies is probably as anonymous as it gets.

        For one thing, I don't think these gateways have a return path, as PhilHibbs pointed out. For another, you got the meme wrong: it's seven proxies [whatport80.com].

  • by DrXym (126579) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:05AM (#35440262)
    Philately will get you nowhere.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      "Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately?
      I've got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley."

      -Tom Lehrer

  • Philately (Score:4, Funny)

    by vagabond_gr (762469) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:07AM (#35440272)

    Could this be the end of stamp collections and philately?

    Not really.

    Btw I'm selling the following RARE swedish stamp:
    67XX5768XX34XX4233 (digits hidden for security reasons).
    Anyone interested?

    • by narcc (412956)

      Btw I'm selling the following RARE swedish stamp:
      67XX5768XX34XX4233 (digits hidden for security reasons).
      Anyone interested?

      Buyer Beware! vagabond_gr (aka smstampmaster_25 on ebay) is known for selling common sms stamps claiming that they're "rare" to bilk money out of newbie Swedish sms stamp collectors.

      While it's true that you won't find 67XX57 issue stamps offered on slashdot very often, they can be had for under $20 at any sms stamp collecting show in Europe. Just did some checking, and there are 3 on yahoo auctions right now.

      Scammers like vagabond_gr are ruining the whole market for us true sms-philatelists and causing pr

  • Great way to track peoples communication, you order the stamp with your mobil phone, so unless its a prepaid they can now check who you send snailmails to easy.
  • One Asked For.

    Do you think this is anything other than a way for the company contracted for this project to make their living?

    Yeah, this is neato, but what was wrong with stamps?

  • The article says that "risk of forged codes is no greater than it is with traditional stamps".
    If this system is implemented correctly and the text message contains a unique id that can be easily associated to the destination address, the sender address and the transaction, then forged codes or reused codes can be easily detected and efficiency of the all snailmail system could be improved.
    An other step to simplify address recognition would be to use QR code.
    • We already have various barcode formats for comerical postage. So the OCR is now being leveraged to let you write the code on the letter without the special software and printer.

      Any issues involved would also be involved today with existing systems - a scanner could copy such codes and a printer could place them on your post... but we've not heard about that being a problem... is it rare or did they address such issues already over a decade ago?

    • by profplump (309017)

      You don't have to track anywhere near that much information. You just give the code a limited lifetime -- it is invalidated when scanned at a postal center, or after say 72 hours of inactivity (at which point it could be refunded or just lost). Immediately after the code is invalidated, return it to the pool of available codes to keep the maximum amount of entropy available in that pool. Given a limited lifetime the code can be fairly short and not require any information about the letter other than the amo

  • no (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @04:33AM (#35440414) Journal

    Could this be the end of stamp collections and philately?"

    No. It's the beginning of the rise in value of my stamp collection. :)

  • Philately/Philatelism/Philatelic is your vocabulary word for the day.

    Especially if you live in or around San Francisco.
    http://stampsfromelsewhere.com/ [stampsfromelsewhere.com]

  • by famebait (450028) on Thursday March 10, 2011 @05:01AM (#35440552)
    * Powertools will get your stone axe sharper, quicker! * Put your horse and carriage on a freight-train for greater speed! * Sending my telegrams would be so much quicker if I could just order them from my iPhone!
    • by nickruiz (1185947)

      * Powertools will get your stone axe sharper, quicker! * Put your horse and carriage on a freight-train for greater speed! * Sending my telegrams would be so much quicker if I could just order them from my iPhone!

      Until e-Cards become popular for birthdays (fat chance) and contracts are completely digitized, snail mail isn't going anywhere and thus this isn't a bad idea.

      • by uncanny (954868)
        yeah, i shoved a $20 in the CD drive and sent the e-card to my niece, she said she never got it. Psh, she's probably just trying to get another $20 out of me, NO DICE LADY!
  • Shortcodes for premium text messages are assigned nationally, so foreign tourists will not be able to use this system. That seems like a big oversight, because how many local consumers really still use snail mail? There's birthdays and Christmas, but other than that I'd expect the majority of purchasers to be tourists sending postcards?

  • Many totally tech capable people (raises hand to indicate self) may be technically adept, building their own 'puters, posting to /., etc. etc., yet don't own a cell 'phone, much less one capable of text messaging because they hate them. Every 'phone I own has a cord to the wall. Does that mean I'm no longer allowed to send mail?
    • by cbope (130292)

      In Nordic countries, landline phones at home are quite rare these days. Mobile phone penetration here in Finland is more than 2 mobile phones per person over the whole population. Landlines are really only used for home ADSL and businesses with in-house exchanges. Even home alarms typically use 3G or GPRS radios, not landlines.

      I can't remember the last time I saw a landline in a residence here.

  • But replace? You have to have text messaging to be able to send a letter? Really?

  • We've had the ability to "print our own stamps" for about 10 years now here in the US (as datamatrixes). I haven't heard of too many schemes to try and abuse this plan. The people who actually write letters these days aren't likely to try and take advantage of the system. Automating handwriting codes onto letters? What a huge waste of time. Any bulk mailing company in Sweden is already registered with the national post office; they aren't likely to risk their legitimate bulk mail discounts over paying immi

  • what fees will the carriers tack on to this?

    $0.99 per txt + standard rate (up to $0.25 each way)

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