Gates: Lawmakers and vendors need to unite to fight spam

Apparently, spam doesn't spare even the most tech-savvy. Bill Gates said he has to delete dozens of the unsolicited e-mail messages a day.

'I receive a lot of spam every day, much of it offering to help me get out of debt or get rich quick,' said the Microsoft Corp. founder and chief executive officer. 'It's ridiculous,' a distraction and drain on productivity.

In a company memo released today, Gates said the spam slayer is a potent mix of technology, legislation and enforcement.

New laws must beef up an Internet service provider's ability to sue spammers on behalf of their customers, he said. Last week, Microsoft filed 15 lawsuits in the United States and England against organizations it claims distributes billions of spam messages.

Gates also advocated banning automated search functions that gather multiple addresses from Web sites and newsgroups'a common spamming tool.

But businesses engaging in legitimate e-commerce also need protection, he said. He suggested the creation of guidelines that define and protect such traffic. The Federal Trade Commission could approve the guidelines, and a self-regulatory body would enforce them, he said.

If someone is unwilling to use the guidelines, they would be required to include 'ADV' in the e-mail subject line.

'Self-regulation needs to be supported by strong federal legislation that empowers consumers,' Gates said in his memo.

On the technology front, Gates pointed to Microsoft's own efforts:

  • MSN 8 Internet Service, which Microsoft updated this month, lets users block offensive e-mail images and filter mail in some foreign languages.

  • Later this year, Microsoft will add an intuitive spam filter to Outlook 2003.

  • Exchange 2003 uses an application programming interface for third-party anti-spam vendors and will soon include a new filter for its messaging environment.

  • Gates said the government and industry must act because the cost of doing nothing is much higher.

    'As everyone struggles to sift spam out of their inboxes, valid messages are sometimes overlooked or deleted,' he said. 'Spam is so significant a problem that it threatens to undo much of the good that e-mail has achieved.'

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