Microsoft Looks for Trust on E-Mail Caller ID

Propose a technology that will stem the flow of unwanted e-mail spam, and the industry will definitely listen — but if it’s Microsoft that is doing the proposing, suspicion and fear follow that interest.

Such is the case with Microsoft’s proposal for a caller ID system for e-mail that would diminish spammers’ ability to fake or spoof the origin of junk e-mail. While other players, including Yahoo and AOL, have come out with their own similar approaches, Microsoft’s caller ID effort appears to be more aggressive.

Some concerns center on Microsoft’s claims to have patents on e-mail caller ID technology. Others center on the company’s plans to institute a free-licensing strategy aimed at proliferating the technology. However, industry analysts indicated the software giant is probably less interested in dominating the fight against spam and more interested in preserving the use of e-mail.

“Microsoft doesn’t want people to be so overwhelmed by spam as to stop using e-mail,” Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira told TechNewsWorld. “I think Microsoft recognizes if people turn off from using e-mail, it will hurt MSN and other products. What’s going to get under people’s skin is they’re not carrying it out as a typical Internet standard with requests for comment.”

Watched Like a Hawk

Industry analyst Joyce Graff said that given the company’s past record, Microsoft will be “watched like a hawk” as it walks the fine line of propagating its caller ID technology without appearing too aggressive.

“There will, of course, be a lot of suspicion because Microsoft has breached this trust in the past,” Graff told TechNewsWorld. “If they try to pull something like that, it will backfire on them.”

Spira said other companies already are doing “large bits and pieces” of a caller ID approach, referring to Yahoo’s Domain Keys and AOL’s filtering technology. The analyst, whose firm blamed spam for US$20 billion in lost productivity and other costs last year, also downplayed a hidden agenda for Microsoft.

“I don’t see any ulterior motive, except ultimately they don’t want to see computing and e-mail go down,” he said.

Sendmail Safety

Graff referred to Microsoft’s partnership with Sendmail, which also is teaming with Yahoo on an antispam authentication scheme, and said it is quelling fears that the software giant is making a power play.

“People trust Sendmail not to suddenly put a patent on [the technology],” Graff said. “Especially if Sendmail is going along with it, then people will be more likely to trust that [Sendmail] will keep watch. If Sendmail trusts them, I think everyone else will.”

Graff also said the industry itself will help curtail Microsoft’s power over the caller ID for e-mail technology, stressing that if it is proprietary or companies must pay for a license, it will not work.

Spira likened Microsoft’s caller ID approach — to be licensed for free — to the open-source Linux operating system in that it can be improved and changed through a reverse reciprocity component of the proposed license.

True Intentions

Spira said Microsoft appears to be focused on getting the caller ID technology deployed rather than making dollars from it. “Microsoft is trying to ensure nobody can actually profit from this service,” he said, adding that the capability of service providers to accurately identify the origin of spam will be required by the market.

“This whole thing has so many ramifications and can do so much if done well,” Spira added.

Graff agreed that Microsoft’s intentions appear to be genuinely centered on cleaning some of the deluge of spam off the Internet.

“Because the situation is now at a fever pitch, Microsoft is undertaking this not as an opportunity to make money, but as an opportunity to survive,” she said.

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