Financial Penalties Seen as Key to Slamming Spam

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-06-03 Print this article Print

Panelists at the INBOX e-mail conference say switching the economic model of bulk e-mail—so that senders pay—could help slow spam. But they disagree on the best approach.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Fighting spam takes more than filtering, authenticating or passing new laws. It requires hitting spammers where it hurts—in their pocketbooks, panelists said during an e-mail conference here Thursday. Speaking at the INBOX event, executives from a range of anti-spam and messaging vendors delved into the economics of spam and how to create disincentives for sending mass amounts of unsolicited e-mail. Their solutions varied from creating e-mail postage stamps for legitimate commercial messages to making senders pay when recipients mark a message as spam.
Solving the spam problem requires changing todays dynamic, in which e-mail is largely free for its senders, said Richard Gingras, president and CEO of Goodmail Systems Inc.
"Someone has to pay, and in truth, its a recipient who pays, and its the ISP who pays," Gingras said. "A freely available resource has been exploited to the detriment of the common good." Spam has dominated discussion at the INBOX show, which runs through Friday. On Wednesday, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. were among the speakers that addressed emerging e-mail authentication protocols to prevent spoofing, a practice in which spammers disguise an e-mails domain information. Read more here about authentication efforts. Microsoft last week For more collaboration coverage, check out Steve Gillmors Blogosphere. Another growing approach is the use of financial bonds to distinguish legitimate commercial e-mailers from spammers. IronPort Systems Inc.s Bonded Sender program requires mass e-mailers to post a bond to ensure that they follow a set of guidelines for acceptable bulk e-mailing. A third party, TRUSTe, screens and certifies participants. "The good guys are those that are willing to put their own money at risk," said Craig Sprosts, a product manager at San Bruno, Calif.-based IronPort. But Philip Raymond, CEO of startup Vanquish Inc., said he prefers an economic model that is more direct than e-mail stamps or bonds. Make e-mail senders pay on the spot if a recipient gets a spam message, he said, and give the money to the recipient. "Its like a whack-a-mole problem," he said of other economic approaches. "If you remove one form of economic incentive, then you create another one." Vanquish has designed a system in which senders put up a cash guarantee that recipients will want their e-mail. When recipients get the e-mail, they can choose to designate the e-mail as spam and receive payment for receiving it. Vanquishs approach works on the premise that most bulk senders will be careful not to send unwanted e-mails if recipients can exact a financial penalty on them. The payment system applies when a recipient has not corresponded previously with the sender, Raymond said. For its part, the worlds largest software maker, Microsoft, has begun using the Bonded Sender program for its MSN and Hotmail e-mail services. But the company remains agnostic about which economic approach is best for making sure spammers pay, said George Webb, business manager of the Redmond, Wash., companys anti-spam technology and strategy group. Click here to read more about Microsofts plans to use the Bonded Sender program. "Were not sure which one is going to win, but its important that legitimate senders have options," Webb said. Still, making spamming unprofitable is part of Microsofts anti-spam strategy. The company is pursuing legal action against major spammers to create a deterrent as well as improving spam-filtering technology so that a spammers cost to reach inboxes keeps rising, Webb said. "When its economically unviable to be in the spam business, then spam will be a fringe business," Webb said. Check out eWEEK.coms Messaging & Collaboration Center at for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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