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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Internet

Free emailers canning spam

Free email services including Hotmail, RocketMail, and NetAddress want to make sure that spammers don't equate free email with freedom to spam.

Free email services including Hotmail, RocketMail, and NetAddress want to make sure that spammers don't equate free email with freedom to spam.

RocketMail announced today that it too will filter messages for domain names of known spammers, something Hotmail has been doing for a few months.

They're not the only ones getting into the act. With unsolicited commercial email becoming more unpopular every day, if not every hour, free email services are jumping on the antispam bandwagon hoping to attract more customers to their services.

Ironically, perhaps, these services make money by sending commercial advertisements within email.

Free email service NetAddress plans to add domain name filtering next week, according to its chief technology officer, Scott Chasin. Chasin added, however, that NetAddress members are not regular targets of spammers because there is no directory where their addresses are regularly published.

The free email services also try to prevent their own users from sending out spam to others by limiting the number of addresses to which any one piece of email can be sent. Hotmail only allows members to send to 25 addresses at once. NetAddress limits that to 100 and RocketMail also has a limit, but a spokeswoman refused to say what it was, fearing it would tip off spammers.

The moves by the services underscore the Internet-wide war against spammers: people who flood mailboxes with unsolicited email advertisements.

While filtering programs certainly cut back on the amount of spam that reaches customers' in-boxes, it doesn't eliminate it altogether. In fact, several programmers are trying to devise sure-fire solutions to rid the Net of spam.

Those who send out junk email, however, are working equally hard to devise technologies that bypass filters. Many insist that Netizens don't mind getting spam and that they should have a right to send it, as most email tends to be unsolicited.

While criticized for its own marketing policies, America Online, the world's largest online service, has been at the forefront of the battle against junk email with its PreferredMail feature.

With PreferredMail, AOL automatically screens out the domain names of known spammers unless an AOL member takes the time and effort to turn off the filter. In fact, executives at RocketMail think the program works so well that they are using the PreferredMail list, available publicly on AOL's service, to filter for spammers, according to Katie Burke, director of services for four-month-old RocketMail.

RocketMail can add or delete domain names as necessary, Burke said. It is sure to be necessary as some spammers are known to change domain names more often than most people change clothes.

"The more ISPs, online services, and Web-based email services work together to try to stop this," she said of spam, "I think it will slow. If we can try to stop this problem, everyone wins."

On the other hand, Hotmail, a year-old service and the largest free email provider, maintains its own, continually updated list.

In addition to working on technological solutions to stop spam, Hotmail is one of several ISPs fighting against it on a legislative level, trying to convince lawmakers to come up with legal solutions.

"We want people to view Hotmail as place where they can conduct their own personal email...People have told us they are very adverse to receiving unsolicited email," said Steve Douty, vice president of sales and marketing for Hotmail.

"We are the leaders in this space and we believe it is our responsibility to lead the charge against the spammers," he added.