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Lycos Europe: 'Make love not spam'

Web portal launches screensaver designed to bombard Web sites that are promoted in unsolicited e-mail.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
3 min read
In a new take on fighting spam, Web portal Lycos Europe has launched a screensaver designed to bombard Web sites promoted in unsolicited e-mail.

The effort, dubbed "Make love not spam," will officially launch on Wednesday and will center around the screensaver, which the company has designed to overload Web sites advertised via spam. Lycos Europe is a separate company from the Web portal that bears the Lycos name in the United States. Lycos Europe claims that it currently maintains roughly 40 million e-mail accounts across eight European countries.

Under the plan, when a URL already listed on Lycos Europe's spam blacklist is mentioned in e-mail sent to someone using the screensaver, the tool automatically and repeatedly requests data from the site in question. The idea is that when a large number of the screensavers send requests to the same page at the same time, those sites' performance will suffer greatly.

A graphic on the Lycos Europe site advertises the ability of its customers to "annoy a spammer now!"

Lycos Europe contends that the technology will create logistical problems for spammers. While the company said it does not intend to disable any site completely, it believes that it can overload sites based on the volume of spam created to advertise them. The company said the screensaver system uses an automated "health check" feature to ensure that its data requests never render any site completely inoperable.

According to Malte Pollmann, director of communications for Lycos Europe, a staggering 90 percent of e-mail messages processed by the company are unsolicited attempts to spam its members or distribute viruses.

Pollmann said the idea behind the screensaver strategy is to discourage spamming as a marketing technique by slowing the sites that profit from the practice. By sending a heavy load of traffic to amateur e-commerce sites not capable of handling such a volume, Pollmann said he believes that Lycos Europe can cripple spam's economic underpinnings.

"Despite spending a lot of money and time trying to discourage spam, we see it increasing every day, so clearly, it must still be working as a marketing tool for someone," Pollmann said. "We decided that in order to truly discourage (spam), we should attack the flow of money and make it harder to profit from it."

In order to protect sites from inadvertently ending up on its spam list, Pollmann said Lycos Europe updates its records on a daily basis and uses internationally recognized blacklists to back up its findings.

The "Make love not spam" initiative follows in the footsteps of rival Yahoo's recent attempts to discourage spammers from targeting users of its Web-based e-mail system.

In mid-November, Yahoo announced that it will begin attaching antispam technology to all of its outgoing e-mails. Under the plan, messages from Yahoo's free e-mail service will include a "DomainKey," a system that creates a digital signature for outgoing e-mail and then lets receivers verify that the message comes from where it claims.

The DomainKey addition is a direct attempt at thwarting so-called phishing attacks, in which e-mail messages pretend to originate from a familiar address and then launch viruses or social-engineering hacks when opened.

Yahoo is encouraging other e-mail providers to adopt DomainKeys as a weapon against spam and has thus far picked up endorsements from rivals EarthLink and Google. But the biggest e-mail companies, America Online and Microsoft, have yet to commit to the technology.

Lycos Europe said it plans to launch its own a domain key system in the next several months.