Financial Penalties Seen as Key to Slamming Spam

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.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about authentication efforts.

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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.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick 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.

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