MS and Symantec offer plans to combat spam

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Symantec chief Eeecutive officer John Thompson have offered different plans for combating the...

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Symantec chief executive officer John Thompson have offered different plans for combating spam.

The plans were outlined in letters submitted by to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Gates wrote that spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, costs businesses billions of dollars each year and was eroding public trust in technology.

"[Spam] is decreasing our collective ability to realise technology's full potential," he wrote.

While trumpeting Microsoft's investment in antispam technology for its MSN online and Exchange and Outlook application customers, Gates downplayed the idea of a technological fix to the spam problem.

Instead, Gates advocated a multifaceted approach involving new legislation, increased enforcement of existing laws and a healthy dose of technology industry self-regulation.

The centrepiece of Gates' antispam plan was a proposal to establish global independent trust authorities that could certify legitimate e-mail solicitations, champion best practices and serve as a mediating body for customer disputes.

Legitimate e-mail solicitation firms would receive a "seal" identifying them as a trusted sender.

Rather than creating a complicated body of laws regarding spam, federal legislation should indemnify ISPs (internet service providers) from blocking spam and pursuing spammers, while providing incentives for e-mail marketers to adopt best practices.

For example, the federal government could set up a "safe harbour" programme that would absolve online marketers participating in self-regulatory organisations from complying with more onerous antispam laws, such as labelling spam e-mail messages with the "ADV" prefix, Gates suggested.

Symantec's Thompson took a different tack in his letter to the Committee.

While detailing the damage Symantec has suffered from fraudulent spam messages offering discounted versions of Symantec's software, Thompson's recipe for fighting spam shied away from proposing radical changes from the exisiting antispam measures.

Instead, Thompson stuck to incremental and common-sense proposals such as increasing enforcement of existing fraud laws and beefing up the prosecutorial staff at the US Federal Trade Commission.

Greater deployment of antispam filtering software by ISPs, better consumer education and a uniform federal antispam law to replace fragmented state laws would all help reduce spam, Thompson said.

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