Microsoft, lead the spam war!

Mix independent, trusted authorities with best practices, authorise them to mediate disputes, add in a negligible dose of government interference, and what do you have?

The technology industry’s get-tough policy on a pernicious problem: spam.

Back in May, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held hearings on spam. In written testimony, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates didn’t say much about improving government regulations, tightening existing laws or beefing up enforcement talent at the Federal Trade Commission. Nor did he explicitly support Virginia legislation (signed in April) that has made it a felony to send unsolicited bulk e-mail containing falsified routing information. Virginia’s law goes further than the antispam statutes in 25 other states by permitting felony prosecutions and seizure of assets.

The only way to grab hold of this marketing gone berserk is to also hold Internet service providers financially liable — and make the penalties for spammers onerous enough to thwart their business plans. Think millions!

Telephone companies (prodded in the US by the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act) have blocking technology to combat telemarketers. Surely, Microsoft and IBM aren’t technology laggards. Gates should lead the technology charge to remove from Outlook and Exchange advertisements for bigger penises, get-rich-quick schemes and cheap credit cards. Many e-mail programs can filter junk. Shouldn’t ISPs also have the technology to block spam from ever reaching their outgoing servers?

So what’s behind the foot-dragging by Gates and Microsoft? Well, any punitive action or technology requirement targeting ISPs would certainly affect Microsoft’s Hotmail, MSN and bCentral online services. Also, Microsoft doesn’t like being told what to do — especially by the government. The company’s responses to spam have included stumping for best practices, mediating customer disputes and waiting until independent trusted authorities can certify legitimate e-mail solicitations. But where’s the clout? Without the threat of financial pain, what’s to prevent spammers from moving to another domain, enlisting better technology or ignoring these nongovernmental lobbies altogether?

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