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Bill Gates' Spam Prediction Misses Target

Two years ago, Gates said the spam problem would be 'solved' by now. We're not even close, experts say, and for many reasons that don't have anything to do with Microsoft.

Two years ago Tuesday, Bill Gates predicted that spam would be a "solved" problem by now, a prognostication that, say most e-mail experts, was as off-base as most of Nostradamus' forecasts.

Jan. 24, 2004, Gates told a group at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." During the talk, Gates pinned his prediction on the creation of an authentication scheme to verify senders' identities, as well as the hope that some kind of micropayment structure could be created for levying fees on e-mail.

"We have a long way to go before we solve the spam problem," said Scott Chasin, the chief technology officer for Denver-based e-mail security firm MX Logic Inc. "Gates' prediction has not come true. Talk to any Internet user out there and they'll agree. All they have to do to know is log into their in-boxes.

"I think Gates had a very optimistic view of the world," added Chasin.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant with U.K.-based Sophos, agreed. "Two years on, Gates' famous prediction now looks extraordinarily optimistic."

Neither of the proposals Gates mentioned two years ago have made much headway. Although Microsoft uses its own Sender ID authentication protocol for the company's Web-based Hotmail service, neither Sender ID nor the competing DomainKeys from Yahoo have anything like broad acceptance by ISPs or enterprises. And the micropayment concept for e-mail is as dead now as it was two years ago.

"The reverse cost structure of e-mail is a hard problem to solve before you have some identity technology in place," said Chasin. "You really need to build an identity structure before you can have micropayments."

"Changes to the Internet happen very slowly," added Cluley. "It takes years for things to wend their way through standards bodies."

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