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

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

Summary: 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 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 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.

Topics: Browser, Apps, Collaboration, Google, Microsoft, Security, Social Enterprise

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  • You (inncorrectly) assume they want to stop spam.

    Many states have labored long and hard to create a "no spam" list simular to the "no call" lists. Guess who has fought them at every step? Yup, the very same companies you mention.

    There is money to be made with spam and none of these compaines are willing to let it go.
    • yeap.

      a whole industry has been setup to deal with spam.. why fix something we make money on?

      REF: IRAQ
    • But..But..Bill Gates Promised Spam Would Be Gone!!!

      I'm sitting here patiently waiting for it to go away...I trust ya Bill!!!
    • That's correct.

      The big companies want a certain level of nuisance. Keeps the customers looking towards them for 'help'. We're already addicted to quite ineffective security software (on subscription basis usually). Expect a drive to a subscription model for OS as well. They want our money, a nice, steady stream. Of course, publicly they are on 'our' side but of course that's not the case. They're on the shareholders side. And they care about profit. Period. Us customers are the suckers. And our legislators? Bought.
      • couldn't agree with you more

        I couldn't agree with you more. It truly is all about shareholders and profits. But that's probably why they went into business in the first place.
        • shareholders?

          What's stopping the general users from becoming shareholders? At least then WE could profit from technology and maybe influence it.
          • What's to stop them?

            The shareholders who hold enough shares to have an influential voice are all millionaires. That's what.
      • Different how

        How is this different from any other publicly traded company which primarily serves individuals? Become a stock holder and then complain.
    • Eventually one will take the lead on spam

      Just like how Google set the standard for search, eventually an email provider will take
      the lead on spam, and the rest will have to follow. <a
      G Brent LeVasseur
      • Dude stop with the links to your website!

        D T Schmitz
    • How True .....

      particularly since Microsoft/Hotmail consistently allows incorrectly addresses email to be delivered to my email inbox ie my email address may be yet Hotmail regularly deliveres emails addressed as, for example, jblo@, joeb@, and any other variation you can think of. A look at the properties box of the email shows that the address bar contains from about two to anynumber of different addresses - none of which actually match

      And this goes for dormant accounts as well (I have 3 other hotmail accounts that are not currently used - yet i regularly get junk emails in them, particularly the fake rolex ones.

      As for Yahoo! i've had an email account with them for years - originally setup as a spam catcher - but guess what - unlike hotmail i get NO spam in that account.

      I have also used one of my hotmail accounts (because i can access it with Outlook Express) as a "collection" account ie emails from all my other email accounts that i need/want to keep i forward to this one account - and it does not matter whether you have the hotmail spam filter on or off, some of it still ends up in the junk mail folder.

      The moral of the story of course is that as with any free service you get what you pay for.

      btw, how the hell does an email addressed to jblog@ get into the email inbox for joeblogs@? poor or careless (whether deliberate or not is another question) software coding. And somebody is making big money out of it - so dont expect any changes in the near future.
      • Email Envelope

        There is a difference between the email envelope and the email headers. On properly formed email the envelope and the header will match, but SPAM often will put false headers without you in them and then setup the envelope with your email address.

        At least this is my understanding of the standards and technology involved.
    • Correct - They must not or it would be fixed

      They obviously have decided either (a) there is money to be made by them from spam or (b) it is worth more to retain proprietary email systems. Each one is betting that they will come up with a proprietary solution that will give them ownership / monopoly of email.
  • This is why challenge response systems are growing in popularity

    i hate them.. cause i have to respond.. but they cut spam by 80%

    Graylisting is another useful technology..

    The biggest drawbacks of both.. delayed email.

    I agree an overhaul needs to take place.. but this is an open system.. open to all and it needs to be fixed as a community. Relying on companies is not the end all.

    Get enough people to adopt one peice of technology or method.. the rest will follow when they are left out of the loop.
    • What if shareware creators

      ... got together and did exactly that? Created a methodology/method that REALLY worked and left the big guys out of the loop? [sigh] But that'll be just too cool, yes?
    • Challenge Response System Purchased By AOL

      AOL purchased a copy named "Mailblocks" a few years ago that did a wonderful job with Challenge/Response technology. Of course, then they shut down the service saying they were going to integrate the technology into their eMail. Of course they never did. So... I wonder if they really care about it or not.
      I now pay to subscribe to SpamArrest to do the same things... which they are not quite as good as the former at doing.
      I now get spam mail at a rate of a new spam mail every 10-15 seconds. When will it end?
      • Not enabled by default

        AOL is one of my e-mail providers, and I do remember the acquisition of Mailblocks. I don't believe AOL uses the C/R concept specifically, but it does have whitelisting. It's not enabled by default; you have to enable it.

        If you want Challenge-Response, you could use Bluebottle or ICMail. But ICMail's C/R filter is not enabled by default, and their interface is a lot less user-friendly. They also limit you to five synchronous outgoing messages.
  • My Thunderbird spam filter... fine 99% of the time. May once every few hundred messages it false-positives and dumps real mail to Junk, and maybe once in a hundred false-negatives spam and leaves it in my inbox.

    <p>Whatever technology Thunderbird uses works fairly well, and it's here <i>now:</i> you don't have to wait, probably forever, for AOL, et. al., to fix a problem they don't seem to have a lot of interest in fixing.
    Henrik Moller
    • What good is it if...

      your POP3 service provider is throwing legitimate mail into a spam folder before Thunderbird ever gets to pick it up? Maybe your POP3 server doesn't do that.. .but plenty of others do. So what works for you doesn't necessarily work for everyone.

      I'm trying to get to a set a standard solutions that work for everyone.

      • David - For everyone is the problem isn't it?

        "I'm trying to get to a set a standard solutions that work for everyone."

        Is there such a thing? I mean no one that "advertizes" thinks their message is "spam". People that click on the links see it as something they want, not as spam. Even the companies you mention can not begin to agree on what spam is or is not. Heck they can't agree internally.

        Honestly, I see no way to come up with a solution for everyone, or even for the majority because I don't beleive there is a majority.