Letters to the Editor: We Must Address the Root Problem of Spam

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Much of the Internet industry's newfound support of e-mail spam legislation seems defensive and aimed at protecting the right and ability to send legitimate commercial e-mail (“Why I Hate Spam” by Bill Gates, editorial page, June 23). Those motives are understandable and appropriate. However, the real crisis isn't merely that legislation likely won't rid us of spam (given the Net's global pool of scofflaws); rather, legislation like “ADV” mandates or “do-not-spam” lists don't address the fundamental factors at the root of the spam problem: (1) lack of authentication of senders, and (2) the ability of spammers to shift the costs of sending bulk e-mail to recipients.Bill Gates stressed the importance of sender verification to online commerce. And, as he implies, it's a job that calls for unprecedented industry partnership.But that may be just the beginning of the industry's task. I've heard it called the technological equivalent of trying to widen all the nation's roads six inches, but industry consortia also may conclude that tiered pricing for senders of bulk mail must replace today's “all-you-can-send” buffet. Relatedly, if recipients could charge fractions of a cent “postage” to read somebody's unsolicited mail, that would finally address the root of the spam problem.Whether or not <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Washington passes an anti-spam law this year, the industry must still grapple with what are fundamentally technological and economic dilemmas rather than legislative ones. If industry doesn't resolve sender authentication issues and end cost shifting, Congress will act—but without solving either problem.