Project Lumos offers new anti-spam initiative

A consortium of online marketers called the E-mail Service Provider Coalition (ESPC) is planning to set up a registry-based system for transmitting e-mail which it hopes will eradicate spam by holding senders accountable for the mail they send.

The organization plans a scheme, under the name Project Lumos, to revamp the technical architecture through which e-mail is sent in order to cut down on the growing problem of unsolicited and unwanted e-mail, known as spam, which is irritating users and Internet service providers (ISPs) alike, ESPC said in a statement Wednesday.

Under Project Lumos, high-volume mail senders will need to undergo a certification process and their performance will be monitored by ESPC to ensure they maintain best-use practices regarding unsolicited mail.

The Project Lumos blueprint contains four elements of accountability, including:

– certification to ascertain the mailer’s identity to provide transparency.

– volume mail standards, including standardization of all sender information in the mail header and the use of an identifiable, trackable unsubscribe URL.

– secure identity, an authentication process that provides secure proof of sender identity in the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) header.

– performance monitoring, a process that captures, monitors, and reports performance data for all senders and mailers.

This approach will preserve the legitimate e-mails that consumers have asked to receive, an area where ISP-based anti-spam filters and blacklists fail. In the fourth quarter of 2002, 15 per cent of requested commercial e-mail was not delivered to consumers as it was wrongly filtered out by ISPs’ systems, ESPC said.

Following the failure of the wider industry to come up with any answers to the growing spam problem, it has fallen to online marketers themselves to address the issue. The ESPC was formed in November 2002 by the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), a group of 30 online marketers which includes Avenue A Inc., Blue Dolphin Group, Digital Impact Inc., DoubleClick Inc., E-centives Inc. and eLetra Corp.’s iMakeNews unit.

“E-mail is indeed a killer app and has been a major component in the productivity and efficiency gains of the digital economy,” ESPC has said. “But those gains will be lost if e-mail becomes unreliable as a communications tool. Businesses will not be able to use e-mail if they cannot have a reasonable assurance that their messages will be delivered.”

According to security vendor MessageLabs Ltd., one e-mail in 2.8 (36.3 per cent) received by consumers in March was spam, while ESPC estimated the current percentage at 40 per cent. Both organizations say the incidence of spam is rising sharply.