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Paying up for a spam seal of approval

June 23, 2002 

San Bruno, Calif.-based IronPort Systems plans to unveil Tuesday its BondedSender program, aimed at giving legitimate bulk e-mail a seal of credibility.

Participating companies would be asked to post a cash bond with a neutral party against which recipients could charge a small fee if they were improperly targeted with e-mail. A few such recipients wouldn't make much difference to the bond, but thousands of charge-backs could make companies reconsider sending the next mailing.

"These are messages with money behind them, so you can feel confident that they are real mail," said Scott Weiss, CEO of IronPort. "There are a lot of companies that you have never heard of, which need something like this. The bond is the way for them to prove themselves credit worthy."

The benefit for bulk e-mail companies is more certain delivery. The program could make companies and home users more likely to allow bonded e-mail through their gateways.

In a way, it's the ultimate capitalist voting system, in which people vote with, in this case, the sender's pocket book.

E-mail gateways--the hardware that sits between a company and theInternet to route mail efficiently--would take care of tallying returned messages and sending charges along to be deducted from the bond.

IronPort plans to build accounting features into its flagship gateways and says it will offer plug-ins for the three open-source competitors: Sendmail, Qmail and Postfix.

Weiss suggested that any money forfeited from a bond be donated to a spam-prevention organization. "I think it is going to be like the Cold War: Once the efficacy of the method is proven, spammers won't put up a bond," he said.

The plan is the latest trying to solve the problem of unsolicited e-mail. Weiss hopes BondedSender will go a long way toward solving the problem for marketers of overzealous e-mail filters.

"False positives are the biggest problem with anti-spam filters," Weiss said. When a filter flags a legitimate e-mail message as spam, known as a false positive, people could miss important messages.

This sometimes happens when the message contains words that frequently appear in electronic mailings. In other cases, the Internet address from which the mail has originated is known to be used by spammers.

However, companies that send mass mailings are sometimes flagged by filter software as potential sources of spam, even if many of their recipients want to receive the mail. Weiss pointed to online third-party payment service PayPal as an example of a company that could get flagged by filtering software.

"The PayPals of the world are trying to send out legitimate messages, and they are being blocked," he said. "Customers are asking, 'Where is that receipt confirmation?'"

Other companies high on the list of possible supporters include legitimate pornography sites. In many cases, any e-mail from a porn site is filtered out, even if it's a confirmation of payment, Weiss said.

However, the idea is still germinating, and the company hasn't cementeda pricing plan.

"We are tuning it through our beta period, but we want (the price) to be as low as possible without breaking the economic model," Weiss said.

by Robert Lemos. Copyright © 2002 CNET.

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