Technology Shakedown #9: Why AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are to blame for spam

Yesterday was the last straw for me when it comes to the way spam is impacting my work. First, before purging the junk mail folder in my Outlook, I did a quick scan only to notice that almost every other e-mail that was classified as spam was actually a legitimate e-mail that should have flowed into my inbox.

Yesterday was the last straw for me when it comes to the way spam is impacting my work. First, before purging the junk mail folder in my Outlook, I did a quick scan only to notice that almost every other e-mail that was classified as spam was actually a legitimate e-mail that should have flowed into my inbox. Why was it in my junk mail folder? I have no idea. That's part of the problem. In many cases (not all), you can't look at the e-mail, see what the offending issue was, and notify the sender of why their e-mails are getting classified as spam.

But that wasn't all that happened yesterday. For the events company (Mass Events Labs) that Doug Gold and I co-own to produce Mashup Camp, Startup Camp, and other events, we use a masseventslabs.com-specific context of Google Apps for e-mail, documents, spreadsheets, etc. In other words, when Doug and I send e-mail to each other through the masseventslabs.com domain, both he and I are sending and receiving from and to a Google Apps-based version of Google's GMail. Yet somehow (as you can see in the attached video), yesterday, when he replied from his Google Apps account to an important e-mail that I sent to him via my Google Apps account, GMail redirected his reply to my spam folder. How can this be? That's the equivalent of users of the same, behind-the-firewall copy of Microsoft's Exchange Server not being able to send e-mail to each other because it's getting classified as spam. Surely, an e-mail server has some idea of when the source of e-mail is itself.

So, what's the problem and whose to blame for "friendly fire" and other SNAFUs in the battle against spam? The problem is that the major e-mail technology providers won't work together to come up with some standard approaches to stopping spam. And when I say major, I mean AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. If those four companies simply got together and said it's time to fix the problem and here's how we're going to fix it, the rest of the world would have no choice but to follow. Don't agree with me? Watch the video. From my interview the other day with Matt Glotzbach, director of product management for Google Enterprise, I extracted the part where he unequivocally agreed that that's all it would take.

Yet, here we are, more than five years after the major e-mail tech providers said that they'd find a way to curb the problem, and the situation is markedly worse. Markedly. Compounding the problem is that there is some cooperation going on between pockets of vendors and Web sites here and there. But the end game there will be separate Internets. If Yahoo! and eBay get together as they've just done to address phishers going after users of eBay and PayPal and Google does something different with GMail to address phishers going after users of Google Checkout, pretty soon, you end up in a situation where you have to enter completely different multi-site contexts (walled Internet silos) to get anything done. That was not the idea behind the Internet.

So, are you outraged enough to join me in taking action? How can we (you and I) solve the problem. We have to put the pressure on AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. I've recorded a video Technology Shakedown (see above) and I've licensed it under a Creative Commons license that allows you to re-use it anywhere you want. It's not easy to grab our videos from ZDNet (I'll work on that). So, if you want a copy of the video to paste into your blog or Web site, feel free to grab the YouTube version. Maybe together, we can all send a clear message to these four technology providers that its time to stop dilly-dallying and to lead the Internet to a standard "stack" of anti-spam solutions that will have most spammers and phishers looking for a new line of work.

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