Spam Becomes Public Enemy #1

Although they all have different policies to combat the problem, AOL Time Warner, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo announced on Monday that they plan to “join forces against spam.”

In a joint statement, the three companies that are traditionally bitter rivals said they “will initiate an open dialogue that will include organizations across this industry to drive technical standards and industry guidelines that can be adopted regardless of platform.”

The effort represents the first time the three online giants have ever joined forces on a single initiative. For consumers with either free or paid e-mail accounts, spam is a massive problem and it also presents myriad challenges for online companies. Often junk message clutter absorbs storage, sometimes preventing wanted e-mails from being received. While all three companies utilize some level of spam protection technology, any user of e-mail services can vouch for the constant inundation of unwanted and sometimes disturbing messages.

On the backdrop of consumer outrage about the growth of spam, the three behemoths which handle billions of e-mail messages daily are at least saying they will work on broad standards.

Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL said they will focus on protecting consumers from receiving spam by stopping companies which “use deceptive techniques in e-mail headers specifying the e-mail sender, by leveraging existing directories of Internet addresses such as the Domain Name System to better identify the location from which e-mail is originating.”

The group went further by saying it will try to stop e-mails by combating “concealment techniques” and also block e-mail “from systems determined to be open to unauthorized use (such as open relays, open routers or open proxies).”

The troika added the want to prevent certain companies from creating bulk fraudulent e-mail accounts and to develop a mechanism for feedback between the three companies and their respective customer complaint systems.

The AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo press release comes just before a federal conference is to open up this week. “We are looking forward to the Federal Trade Commission’s Spam Forum this week as a valuable opportunity to discuss solutions collaboratively. The event provides a forum for industry, government and technology to come together to address the spam problem and restore the integrity of Internet users’ e-mail experience.”

And it’s precisely that integrity and credibility that is under siege, giving consumer, politicians and now some of the major companies the impetus to begin to tackle the thorny issue of unsolicited blitzing of unwanted messages.

In shades of a Dick Tracy episode, AOL’s vice chairman Ted Leonsis said “at AOL, fighting spam is priority number one, because spammers are public enemy number one, both to us and to our members.”

The FTC’s Spam Forum will be held at the FTC, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. The event is open to the public, and there is no fee for attendance. Pre-registration is not required, but only 350 seats will be available at the forum.