Truste seal aims to separate e-mail from spam

The privacy seals found on many Web pages are being added to e-mail in an effort to distinguish legitimate mailings from the flood of spam.

An important goal of the technology developed by Truste, a San Jose-based nonprofit privacy seal group, and ePrivacy Group Inc. a Malvern, Pa.-based consulting and technology firm, is to boost consumer confidence in business e-mail – a confidence they say is being eroded by the seemingly ever-growing volume of spam.

The Trusted Sender program is in beta-testing at The Microsoft Network (MSN) and some other firms, which want to see if the seal program improves e-mail response rates and encourages people to remain on mailing lists.

“It could, over time, help people sort out in their in-box who really is a trusted sender and who isn’t,” said Diane McDade, privacy product manager at MSN.

As with Truste’s Web seal program, companies that participate in Trusted Sender must sign on to certain practices, including agreeing to send e-mail only to people who have already given their permission. It also requires installation of a proprietary server technology; either a single appliance or cluster, depending on business needs, that adds the seal to outgoing mail.

An e-mail recipient sees the stamp on the upper right-hand corner of an e-mail. By clicking on a verification link, the user can check the authenticity of the e-mail. However, users have to either open the e-mail to see the stamp or use their e-mail client’s preview feature; otherwise, the only indication of the stamp is a (P) in the subject line. Truste and ePrivacy Group are talking with Microsoft Corp., Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo Inc. and other e-mail providers and clients to develop a means for getting the seal to be evident without opening the letter.

The absence of easy in-box recognition is a problem, said Jonathan Gaw, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. “I don’t think it’s a complete solution,” he said, but if there is easy in-box recognition, businesses “might value something that helps their commercial e-mail stand out from spam.”