No Place to Hide - No Reason to

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For years, we have been engaged in a vicious game of hide 'n' seek with spammers. The spammers have diligently sought to hide their identity as they have maneuvered and morphed to reach their goal of accessing your inbox. On the opposing side, anti-spam technologists have been equally diligent in seeking out the spammers to deny them that victory. It's been a never-ending cycle of move and countermove.

Of course, this isn't a childhood game where bragging rights go to the victor. At stake is e-mail's future as a medium for communication and commerce. The game is lost if we can't restore trust for e-mail recipients and ensure reliable delivery for the legitimate senders. And the longer the game persists, the more damage is done to the medium's perceived trustworthiness and reliability.

Why have spammers been such persistent opponents? Economics. Spam is big business, with untold millions to be made. And it doesn't take much - fewer than 15 responses per million (0.0015 percent response rate) - for the spammers' business model to work. No wonder that spam as a percentage of e-mail traffic has skyrocketed to more than 80 percent.

As spam filters have gotten smarter, spammers simply have turned up the volume of illicit messages they send with new techniques. The latest twist is spam as an image where a single pixel change will evade the smartest fingerprinting filter. Will the anti-spam countermove be the suppression of all images? Let's hope not. Legitimate e-mail senders have suffered the consequences of this hide 'n' seek game long enough.

So what's the answer if anti-spam technologies (or even stiff legal penalties) can't defeat the spammers? Do we forsake e-mail in favor of RSS or some other form of digital messaging? Absolutely not. The time has come to protect our brands, restore consumer confidence and reclaim the e-mail medium from the spammers. Besides, what makes us think that other media won't be prone to abuse once adoption reaches a point where significant bucks can be made? E-mail is the place to defeat the spammers.

The answer lies in staying the course to make e-mail senders accountable for their practices. It starts with the authentication of e-mail so the true identity of senders is known and spammers have no place left to hide.

Once definitively identified, the endgame is then associating that known identity with a "reputation score" that will affect access rights and privileges to the medium and fundamentally alter the spammers' business model. You both identify yourself and have a reputation worthy of acceptance, or you don't get in. No more hide 'n' seek. No more reliance on imperfect spam filters that catch the good e-mail along with the bad.

What does this mean for legitimate e-mail senders? For a good direct marketer, you identify yourself through the authentication of your e-mail and stand by the reputation you have built with customers. You have no reason to hide.

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