MSN 8 Update Targets Web Beacons

Microsoft’s MSN announced on Wednesday the release of an updated version of its MSN 8 Internet service software that further targets spammers.

MSN 8 will now stop images from automatically loading in messages received from unknown senders. Users can open the message with the graphics after reviewing the contents of the rest of the message. The move is intended to thwart spammers’ use of Web beacons to identify valid e-mail addresses, and also allows users to avoid the sometimes offensive images in pornographic spam.

Last month, Microsoft rolled out the same feature to its millions of Hotmail users. The beta version of its Outlook 11 e-mail program also blocks HTML graphics from messages.

Microsoft’s stance against Web beacons has caused some chagrin in the e-mail marketing community, whose members use them as a humdrum analytics tool to track open rates. Last November, the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) sought to get ahead of the issue by coming up with a set of guidelines for the legitimate use of Web beacons.

The MSN 8 update contains a number of other e-mail enhancements. Incoming messages will be blocked until they are scanned for viruses. The e-mail service will also have a variety of usability improvements, such as an on-screen storage meter and easily accessed address book.

MSN, AOL and other top ISPs have targeted spam as a major problem for their services. Each has rolled out spam-fighting tools over the past few months, with EarthLink recently offering users the options of employing a challenge-response system to keep unsolicited messages from their mailboxes. Yahoo! has pursued a strategy similar to that used by MSN, allowing users of its mail service to turn off images in HTM

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