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E-Mail Marketers: Authenticate Now!

Microsoft Corp. this week will release new data on how e-mail authentication technology protocol Sender ID is increasing e-mail marketers’ open and delivery rates.

The announcement will be made April 19 at the Email Authentication Summit II at the Chicago Hilton. Attendees include executives from e-mail marketers and Internet and e-mail service providers stressing the importance of authentication to cut spam, fraud, phishing and ID theft.

At stake is e-mail’s future as a viable marketing medium. Consumers are losing patience with unsolicited e-mail and abuse of the medium. Even more worrisome, government may again step into the breach.

“If we don’t do something, the growth that we have enjoyed will [slow down],” said Craig Spiezle, director of the technology care and safety group at Microsoft and chair of the summit.

Industry Speaks Up

Speakers at the Chicago summit include executives from Microsoft, AOL, StrongMail Systems, Sendmail, Return Path, Skylist, Habeas, Bell Canada, Skyguide, Cisco Systems and the Direct Marketing Association.

The list also includes the Email Sender & Provider Coalition, Goodmail Systems, FixingEmail.org, Bank of America, eBay, Digital Impact, IronPort Systems, Symantec, DoubleClick, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lander Co., Dell and MSN.

These executives will stress to attending brand and direct marketers that they must authenticate all e-mails from their companies if they want to retain consumer and ISP confidence.

Major e-mail delivery and authentication initiatives from companies such as Microsoft and AOL typically are announced at this event. This year should be no different.

“Be alert what comes out of the Email Authentication Summit – it represents a unique convergence of technology and business leaders from both the sender and receiver sides of the e-mail industry,” said Dave Lewis, vice president of alliances and market development for e-mail software provider StrongMail, Redwood Shores, CA.

Though e-mail senders have made strides in authenticating their e-mail over the past year – about 40 percent of all commercial e-mail in the United States now is authenticated, according to Microsoft – it is essential for all senders to get on board.

“E-mail spam, phishing and malware is at an all-time high, and growing every month,” said Patrick Peterson, vice president of technology at gateway security provider IronPort, San Bruno, CA. “This year’s summit is an important step in stopping the bad guys from hiding behind legitimate companies.”

IronPort will release new data at the summit on the growth in e-mail authentication adoption.

The DMA, which has regularly emphasized the importance of authentication, will continue that message at the summit, said Jerry Cerasale, the association’s senior vice president of government affairs.

“The FTC has challenged the industry to increase authentication,” he said. “It’s imperative that marketers apply authentication procedures to ensure that government-imposed regulatory action isn’t taken.”

Joshua Baer, CEO of e-mail delivery and service provider Skylist, said e-mail authentication as a standard is inevitable.

“People need to understand that authentication is going to happen no matter what … it is soon going to be imperative that all e-mail be authenticated,” Mr. Baer said from Austin, TX.

Issues acknowledged

Marketers understand that e-mail authentication and delivery are a consistent problem. In a recent survey of e-mail marketers by EmailLabs, a division of J.L. Halsey Corp., Menlo Park, CA, 82 percent of respondents said getting e-mail messages delivered is a challenge for their company.

The survey found that about 50 percent believe filtering by ISPs and corporations is the biggest challenge in delivery, and 25 percent acknowledged that they lack the expertise and resources to address deliverability problems.

Along with Sender ID and another e-mail technology standard, Domain Keys, AOL’s implementation of Goodmail CertifiedEmail promises to be a controversial issue that e-mail senders will discuss at the summit.

However, Goodmail Systems chairman/CEO Richard Gingras does not think the AOL-CertifiedEmail alliance will be a point of contention at the meeting.

“When we’re out there in the commercial space, we have people interested in our service,” Mr. Gingras said.

Instead, the point of the summit is, “How do we make e-mail a reliable and safe medium that we all want it to be?” Mr. Gingras said. “I don’t believe there is a commercial sender out there who is satisfied with the current environment.”

Despite the challenges inherent in sending commercial e-mail, adoption of authentication has increased more than 60 percent in the past year, according to an estimate from various ISPs.

Also, 2.6 million domains have published their SPF records, said Jordan Cohen, director of ISP and government relations at Epsilon Interactive, New York. He will speak on an e-mail delivery panel.

“We have accomplished a tremendous amount, but this is an effort to keep this consistent,” Mr. Cohen said.

StrongMail’s Mr. Lewis agreed.

“Last year, it was all about what we were going to do,” he said. “This year, it is more about the progress that has been made.”

In the year ahead, more emphasis will be put on e-mail reputation rather than just authentication, Mr. Lewis said.

“We’re reaching the point where we have achieved critical mass in authentication,” he said. “Now, we’re going to focus on the reputation part. E-mail authentication is a vehicle to improve brand protection.”

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