Net e-mailers tout antispam registry

A coalition of e-mail service providers has announced plans for registries intended to separate the good bulk e-mailers from the spammers, the latest in a series of recent antispam efforts.

The Email Service Provider Coalition (ESPC), formed by the Network Advertising Initiative, counts among its members 30 companies that provide outsourced e-mail services or Internet advertising services for a variety of companies, including DoubleClick Inc. and Advertising.com Inc. The group on Wednesday announced the "blueprint" for a registry standard, launching in six to nine months, that would include a certification process for companies sending out bulk e-mail.

Vendors who pass the certification would get a sort of seal of approval, an alternative to current blacklists and spam filters that sometimes ban legitimate e-mail vendors, said Hans Peter Brondmo, senior vice president for strategy for Digital Impact Inc. and chairman of the ESPC technology working group.

High-volume e-mailers would get a score something like a credit rating, based on numbers of customer complaints, how many times people have to unsubscribe and other factors, Brondmo said. High-volume e-mailers would submit to performance ratings as a way to remain on the registry, and the coalition hopes that the registry will serve as a whitelist that ensures e-mail users of legitimate e-mailers.

The certification process for the registry, code-named Project Lumos, would require bulk e-mailers to reveal their identities by requiring a standardization of all sender information in mail headers and an authentication process that provides a secure proof of identity in the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) header.

The registry would say, "Here's who I am, I'll be that person tomorrow, I'm willing to adhere to certain best practices," Brondmo said.

Brondmo acknowledged that companies sending unsolicited commercial e-mail may not want to be part of the registry, but that's when blacklists and spam filters should be unleashed, he said. "We believe a properly administered blacklist would likely be a part of the future," he added.

The problem with blacklists and spam filters right now is the confusion on how legitimate e-mailers can stay off those lists or get off once they're put on, Brondmo said. Project Lumos would bring " trust, transparency and accountability into the fabric of e-mail," he said.

The coalition's blueprint isn't intended to replace legislative efforts to counter spam, such as a bill re-introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this month, Brondmo said. Leaders of at least one other antispam effort, launched by ActiveState Corp., have promoted technology options over legislative efforts, but Brondmo said he believes there's a place for several antispam efforts.

"I don't think it's one or the other," Brondmo said. "There's a technology dimension, there's a best-practices dimension, and there's a legislative dimension. They're all interconnected."

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