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5/7/2004
06:14 PM
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Microsoft Signs On For E-Mail Program

Hotmail and MSN added to list of distributors that send legitimate E-mail messages

Equifax's Schnell

IronPort's program helps prevent blocked E-mails, Equifax's Schnell says.
Microsoft signed up its online news and mail services last week to participate in an E-mail-accreditation program run by IronPort Systems Inc., joining some 28,000 program participants who want to be recognized as distributors of legitimate and wanted E-mail messages.

Microsoft's MSN and Hotmail services have been added to a "whitelist" of distributors maintained by IronPort's Bonded Sender program that have been deemed acceptable to send high volumes of E-mail messages. The program requires a participant to adhere to certain standards and to post a financial bond that's debited if a designated number of message recipients complain. Certification, oversight, and dispute-resolution services are provided by Trust-e, a nonprofit organization that aims to facilitate trusted relationships over the Internet.

Accreditation programs offered by IronPort, Habeas Inc., and others primarily serve to help companies prevent their E-mails, which often deliver marketing messages, from being blocked. Companies offering the programs must convince Internet service providers to use their whitelists. "The industry is struggling to combat spam, and this notion of considering the sender's reputation is starting to become more commonplace," says Matt Cain, a senior VP at IT research firm Meta Group.

Anywhere from 5% to 15% of requested E-mail is blocked because spam filters used by ISPs aren't completely accurate, says Ray Everett-Church, chief privacy officer for spam and privacy consulting firm ePrivacyGroup.com and counsel for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email.

Microsoft, which last week decided to commit to the Bonded Server program after testing its effectiveness over the past five months, says program participation will help prevent its online services from being a conduit for spam sent by other organizations. Bulk E-mailers who distribute messages through MSN and Hotmail and aren't participating in the program will be subject to a higher level of filtering than registered senders, but won't necessarily be blocked outright, says George Webb, business manager for Microsoft's Anti-spam Technology and Strategy Group. "We see a lot of opportunities to get a lot smarter upstream to eliminate spam," Webb says.

Ron Schnell, VP of network relations at Equifax Inc., says as much as half of E-mails to customers went undelivered before the consumer-credit service company joined IronPort's program two months ago. And Equifax specifically sees an improvement in delivery rates for E-mail messages sent through Microsoft channels, because of Microsoft's experimental participation in the program in recent months. "With MSN and Hotmail becoming part of the Bonded Sender network, we're getting seamless delivery into the mailboxes of our subscribers without the false-positive rejections we've seen in the past," Schnell says.

But if reputation becomes a meaningful metric for whether or not E-mail gets delivered, companies that use E-mail to advertise will have to hold themselves to higher standards and maintain clean lists of willing recipients. "Marketers are really going to have to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak," says David Daniels, research director at Jupiter Research.

Indeed, there are many IT managers whose goal is to stem the flood of marketing E-mails, even from legitimate businesses. Says Dan Nadir, VP of product management at anti-spam vendor FrontBridge Technologies Inc., "Our corporate customers don't want a free pass for marketing materials."

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