Email Providers Gear Up For Sender ID - Could This Let Microsoft Control Email?
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Microsoft feels a need to deliver this sort of technology, after the promise Bill Gates made in January of 2004. At the World Economic Forum, Gates promised an end to spam by 2006. The plans Gates spoke of sounded a bit dubious, however. He wanted a “payment at risk” system that charged spammers. Essentially, when a person receives an email, they can accept of reject it. Accepting means that all is well and you want the email. Rejecting means that the sender of the email must cough up money for sending somebody garbage. To be blunt, the idea sounds half baked. If I was angry at my buddy, I could reject his email and he'd be burned (Don't believe it?). Thankfully, Microsoft’s work no longer seems directly aimed at a “payment at risk” system.
In early 2004, Microsoft and the EISG were working together to develop a mail authentication system. The technology they worked on was called Sender ID, which they recognized as a Request for Comment (RFC) system. The idea behind it is that once a person receives an email, the mail server checks the information within the email and (like the “from” address) with the information from the server that delivered it. The system checks three pieces of information: the host name, the mail-from, and Purported Response Address.
For instance, if email@example.com sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, the aspfree.com mail program would check the email’s credentials. As one part of the process, it would try to determine if the IP address that sent the email matches the IP address of developershed.com. If the mail program cannot make the match, the email doesn’t get delivered. So, emails with forged addresses are dumped, as well as emails from web servers who don’t have the SPF to confirm the mail’s authenticity.
Unlike web standards like proper table coding and CSS implementation, this is one rule that will have to be followed by everyone to be effective. This is fine when the authentication is freely available, but as you can see, needing to authenticate in one given way (or face never having your email seen by its recipient) allows whoever controls the protocol a lot of power.
But when Microsoft patented their work in late 2004, it raised some concerns with their role in the project. Any company understandably wants to protect their intellectual property, but apparently the patent left the option for Microsoft to later implement a licensing fee and other restrictions. This may have not at all been their intention, but you must admit it’s a pretty creative way to control an established technology like email.
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