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News from the Antispam Front

The antispam fight might be heating up but not necessarily in the way you might expect. The most recent hot issue is who owns the technology used to fight junk email.

Email provider Mailblocks ( ) has filed several suits claiming infringement of two patents that Mailblocks owns for a challenge-response approach to spam blocking. In this method, only messages from senders on an approved list get through to the recipient. If a message arrives from someone else, the mail server sends a message to the sender asking for confirmation. After the sender confirms the message, the server adds the sender's address to the recipient's list of approved senders. The technique effectively blocks automated mass mail transmissions because the "challenge" message includes instructions that only a human can follow and respond to.

Mailblocks filed a complaint last week in the US District Court for the Central District of California against EarthLink after EarthLink announced that it would soon implement a challenge-response antispam system. Mailblocks has also filed suit against Spam Arrest, which provides an email sender-verification service and a sender-verification server product; DigiPortal Software, developer of ChoiceMail One email software; and MailFrontier, maker of the Matador antispam add-on for Outlook. All three companies incorporate a sender-confirmation mechanism in their antispam strategies. According to Mailblocks Director of Business Strategies Ryan Keating, Mailblocks is in negotiations with the latter two firms.

Communicating about spam presents some interesting challenges, by the way. If I tried to present examples of spam in this Commentary–-examples that include words that describe particular treatments that promise life-changing results or techniques that can guarantee your income-–this newsletter probably wouldn't get past your spam filter. I can just imagine how tough it must be to tune a spam filter at a pharmaceutical company.

Compared with communicating about spam, defining spam might be easier than you think. A recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies found that 93 percent of business email users classify as spam any unsolicited mass mail that is deceptive in its subject line and hides the sender or seeks to commit fraud. The respondents were a little less definite about whether mass mailings in general constitute spam. For 82 percent, any unsolicited mass mail, even from legitimate businesses or companies with familiar brands, was spam; 54 percent said mass mail from companies they'd done business with wasn't spam.

EarthLink's $16.4 million victory in an antispam case in US federal court last week involved mass mail that fell into the fraud-related category. In its case against Howard Carmack, EarthLink contended that Carmack and others used identities stolen from credit cards and other sources to open Internet accounts, then used the fake email addresses to send spam.

Suits involving spam issues can work both ways, though. E-marketers are fighting for the right to mass mail. The SpamCon Foundation ( ), which supports measures "to reduce the amount of unsolicited email that crosses private networks, while ensuring that valid email reaches its destination" announced last week that it has created a legal fund to help defendants taken to court for their antispam efforts.


I'm going to be taking a bit of a breather from my UPDATE columns. For the next few weeks, my fellow Outlook MVPs Patricia Cardoza and Jessie Louise McClennan will be bringing you their viewpoints on the state of Outlook.

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