Project Lumos Releases E-mail Architecture

Project Lumos, the effort to address the spam problem through a registry for bulk e-mailers, released a detailed plan for how the registry would work on Monday. Despite its progress, however, the effort has yet to gain the support of Internet service providers.

The Project Lumos proposed e-mail architecture hopes to take on spam by solving a key problem with e-mail: the lack of identity and accountability. Through the registry, bulk e-mailers would sign up online and agree to be held accountable for their mailings. ISPs would score the e-mailers, on a scale of 1 to 100, giving them a ranking that could be used by ISPs to cut off those not up to snuff.

Right now, however, ISPs have not said they would implement such a system, according to Trevor Hughes, the executive director of The Network Advertising Initiative’s E-mail Service Provider Coalition (ESPC), which is heading Project Lumos. Hughes said ESPC hopes to get feedback from ISPs on the white paper as part of a public feedback period that will run until Oct. 27. The ESPC plans to publish the comments on Nov. 17, with an eye toward beginning implementation early next year. Hughes said the system could be up and running in six months to a year.

“ISPs have told us they want the ability to distinguish the good from the bad,” Hughes said. “They don’t necessarily want to flag us to create false positives.”

E-mail service providers have complained bitterly about ISPs blocking their mailings. However, at a recent anti-spam meeting representatives of Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft and EarthLink made clear that their No. 1 priority was to protect users from unwanted e-mail.

Hughes said the ISPs’ participation in Project Lumos has been limited so far. He acknowledged the system would not work unless the ISPs handling the majority of e-mail implement it. AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Hotmail handle 63 percent of e-mail traffic, according to a user survey by Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this site.

“We’re really encouraged by participation that the ISPs have shown so far,” he said, while allowing, “I can’t say the major ISPs are involved in Lumos.”

Beyond the top ISPs, Project Lumos needs to create a system that is flexible and cheap enough for the thousands of small ISPs to adopt.

Hughes said ESPC has not figured out likely implementation costs.

“It’s fair to say what ISPs are spending on anti-spam efforts is significantly more,” he said. “It would be an added cost initially but would represent a long-term saving.”

The registry would not pass judgment on bulk e-mailers, giving even spammers the chance to sign up. However, Hughes said the cost of registration, which has not been set, would create enough of a financial burden to dissuade spammers from entering the system.

“It’s a flimsy enough business model that a small cost on top it can topple it,” Hughes said.

Anti-spam company Cloudmark earlier this month rolled out its own registry and rating system. Like Project Lumos, the system does not have the support of major ISPs and currently benefits just 600,000 users of Cloudmark’s SpamNet.

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