Can eMstamps Stop Spam?

By Ron Miller

A small Massachusetts software company wants to stop spammers by making sure they feel some pain in their pocketbooks.

The company, eMstamp, has applied for a patent to add an electronic postage system to the existing SMTP e-mail protocol, all in an effort to stop spammers by upping their costs of business.

eMstamp is the brainchild of ImagineNation, a father and son software company based in Swansea,
Massachusetts. According to Mel Davey, the father part of the
development team, his electronic postage system works at the server
level and never involves charging individual users sending personal e-mail.

“eMstamp is really just a digital token embedded with a credit and applied at the server level. When an email is transmitted to an incoming server, a message transfer agent, usually run by ISPs, checks the email for the eMstamp, makes sure it has the proper number of credits, then strips the credits from the stamp,” Davey said.

The ISP can then use these credits to transmit legitimate email. Davey said because mail servers typically receive more mail than they send, ISPs would never have to pay to distribute e-mail. Davey envisions these credits being issued by some sort of issuing agency, but that part of the system needs to be worked out.

“The sending server must put a stamp on the message when it’s being sent and it will cost them a certain amount of money. The receiving server can then strip the credits from the stamp and use those credits to send mail,” Davey said.

Since spammers are for the most part only sending e-mail, they would conceptually never get receiving credits, and would have to buy credits to send the spam. Davey said he thinks this will discourage them from participating.

But such a plan means that legitimate e-mail marketers would also have to pay.

Davey and Yankee Group Phoebe Waterfield are convinced marketers would be willing to if the system would guarantees their mail could get through where spammers are barred. “I’ve spoken to e-mail marketers who would be interested in a system that would guarantee that their message would get to users. And it’s not just about marketers making money. Some customers get upset when they don’t receive these e-mails,” Waterfield said.

Technically, eMstamp is a software module that plugs into an existing SMTP protocol, which Davey said can be implemented
without disrupting the existing e-mail infrastructure. However, Waterfield said she’s not so sure about that premise.

Any change to a protocol is a complicated process, she added. “You can take a protocol and add to it. Protocols are often changed as they mature and features are added that weren’t there before. They’ve got guts to do that, but it’s not simple to do. SMTP took years to develop and to get everyone using the same thing,” Waterfield said.

Plus, she added, the big names in the ISP would have to get involved and presumably endorse the concept.

“Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL all have a vested interest in how this turns out. They are going to make sure whatever happens to email, they will end up doing well. Whether a tiny company can pitch this in a way that these three companies can benefit is the big question,” Waterfield said.

Davey admitted that ImagineNation has not been able to run a wide-scale test of eMstamp’s system. But, he added, he is hoping to sell the technology to a larger organization that can.

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