E-mail solution: ISPs band together to fight spam

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Internet Service Providers last week put aside their competitive differences and began the process of developing a single standard to combat spam.

Yahoo!, America Online, Microsoft and Earthlink unveiled technical recommendations that focus on verifying the identity of an e-mail sender. Each portal announced the recommendations separately through statements on their Web sites.

The week before, the Federal Trade Commission rejected the concept of a do-not-e-mail registry akin to the telemarketing Do-Not-Call list. Instead, the FTC told Congress that it favors spam controls based on authenticating technologies that can verify the source of an e-mail message.

The solutions are the result of a year of collaboration. In April 2003, the four formed the Anti-Spam Technical Alliance to develop technology to combat spam and eventually settle on a common standard.

"We are working slowly, but surely, to move closer to an e-mail authentication process that the rest of the industry can adopt," said Nicholas Graham, AOL spokesman.

The technical solutions are currently being tested and shared by the ISPs. One is an Internet protocol-based solution that checks that the Internet protocol address from which the e-mail is sent matches the sender's name. This verifies that the email comes from the place the sender says it does. There are two products that employ this solution. One is called Sender Policy Framework, and the other is called Sender ID.

The other solution, Domain Keys, developed by Yahoo!, uses a pair of cryptographically scrambled "keys" to match an e-mail's public domain name with the e-mail's private signature, according to a Yahoo! spokesperson.

mixed reaction

Despite behind-the-scenes maneuvering, e-mail senders are pleased. Said Markus Mullarkey, VP-outbound media, CNET Networks, which sends out about 100 million opt-in e-mails a month: "It's impressive [and] akin to the airlines working together to make sure all the flights leave and arrive on time."

Others are dubious. H. Robert Wientzen, president-CEO, Direct Marketing Association, believes enforcement is the most effective means of stopping spam (along with legislation, technology and industry self-regulation). The DMA has sunk half a million dollars into locating and investigating spammers and turning them into the FBI.

Fast Facts

19% Percentage of legitimate e-mail prevented from reaching destination because of spam in second half of 2003

833 billion E-mail marketing messages that will be received by consumers in 2004

1.01 trillion E-mail marketing messages consumers can expect to receive in 2005

Source: Return Path, Jupiter Research

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