AOL, MS, Yahoo team on industry fight against spam

The fight against unwanted spam e-mail is intensifying as three major Internet companies, America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., have created a new partnership to help battle the problem as a united front.

In an announcement Monday, the companies said they plan to spearhead a larger effort that will bring together other affected companies to share resources, technologies and strategies in the search for improved antispam methods.

"We are making a declarative and timely statement for the industry" to fight what's become "an explosion of spam in the last several months," said Nicholas Graham, a spokesman for Dulles, Va.-based AOL, which is the nation's largest Internet access provider. "We realize we can do much more by working together as teammates than by working as competitors."

"Clearly, the Internet quality of life is deteriorating before our very eyes ... due to the fraudulent methods of spammers," Graham said. "We're taking a first step and making a statement."

He cited a gathering storm of spam e-mail, saying the problem is growing worse by the day.

"Over the past few months, spammers have really changed the rules" and accelerated their mailings and methods, Graham said. "It became clear that we had to take action. We have to do something to restore faith in (e-mail use)."

By teaming together, the three companies say they hope to initiate open dialogue that will include organizations across the industry to drive technical standards and industry guidelines that can be adopted, regardless of platform. The process will be open and other companies and groups will be encouraged to participate, Graham said.

The group has laid out four initial goals, including protecting consumers from receiving spam by preventing spammers from falsifying sender's e-mail headers, and halting incoming e-mail from systems determined to be vulnerable to unauthorized use through open relays, open routers or open proxies.

Another strategy will be to try and prevent the use of e-mail services such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN to send spam to large numbers of recipients, they said. That effort will concentrate on eliminating spammers' ability to create fraudulent e-mail accounts in bulk and other methods.

The group also backs the creation and adoption of standards that would help differentiate legitimate business e-mail from unwanted spam and the enforcement of applicable and new laws to make spammers more accountable for their actions.

Lisa Pollock Mann, a spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo, said today's announcement is a "first step toward a broader industry effort" in fighting spam. "We are committed to making this work," she said. "Industry collaboration is going to be a necessity."

Brian Arbogast, vice president of MSN and the personal services division at Microsoft, said the effort is being made because spam wastes the time of MSN users and is often offensive and sexually explicit. "It's important to us because it's important to an increasing number of our customers," Arbogast said. "Our customers tell us they feel like they are being robbed" by the volumes of spam they receive.

Another problem, he said, is that spam makes it difficult for parents to feel safe allowing their children to use the Internet because of pornographic messages that are often sent.

"Spam is one of the biggest disincentives to allow their children to use the Internet, which is a tragedy," Arbogast said.

In February, AOL announced its own program to intensify its internal antispam efforts to help its members stem the flow of unwanted junk mail. AOL added a Report Spam button to its mail client and took other steps to try to reduce the problem.

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Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
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