Three of the world's largest technology companies -- Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft -- are to announce details of a major offensive designed to combat unwanted e-mail.
The initiative, details of which are expected on Monday, will see the three rivals cooperating and calling on other technology leaders to participate in measures aimed at checking the rising flood of spam.
Already unwanted mail is on track to make up some 40 percent of e-mail by the end of 2003: AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and Microsoft say they fear that people will simply stop using e-mail if spam is not stamped out.
A number of software packages already exist to help Internet users filter out unwanted mail messages -- most of which peddle porn, Viagra, and dubious financial and medical services -- and the European Union is seeking to make unsolicited e-mails illegal across member states. But the initiative from AOL Time Warner, Microsoft and Yahoo is an unprecedented, top-level offensive from the Internet industry itself, designed to track down spammers and turn them over to the authorities.
Brian Arbogast, a vice president at MSN, told reporters over the weekend that the industry will cooperate to drive spammers out of business.
The companies will cooperate to locate and prosecute so-called "kingpin" spammers, promote anti-spam federal legislation that clearly targets such spammers and establish technical standards to combat the menace. Already each company is taking steps separately to fight the problem; most recently, AOL earlier this month filed five federal lawsuits against spammers it accused of sending 1 billion junk messages.
Those lawsuits sought damages of more than USD10 million, but the fact that most defendants were listed as "John Doe," actual name unknown, underlines the extent to which spam has become a phantom menace, with the worst offenders easily able to conceal their identities with bogus sender information and temporary mail accounts.
The anti-spam initiative being launched on Monday comes ahead of this week's public forum on spam, hosted by the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC. Starting Wednesday, the three-day forum aims to explore spam issues including deceptive routing and subject information in messages, the financial cost of the problem, best practices for e-mail senders and receivers, and security weaknesses that contribute to spam, such as open relays and open proxies.