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Hotmail tries to fry more spam

Taking a new twist on an old antispam method, Microsoft previews a system for singling out mail from approved addresses. It plans to use the system in its free Hotmail e-mail service.

Taking a new twist on an old antispam method, Microsoft plans to use white lists for its free Hotmail e-mail service.

Days after Yahoo unveiled new mechanisms for controlling spam, or unsolicited junk mail, on its free Web e-mail service, Microsoft sent Hotmail account holders an e-mail that pledged to upgrade its services with the white lists next month and offered a sneak peak of how the system will work.

A white list checks incoming mail against a list of addresses that the account holder has already approved.

The white list, in its purest form, is considered one of the more draconian antispam methods, because mail that doesn't match the list does not get delivered. (Black lists, by contrast, assemble a list of known or suspected spammers, and don't deliver messages from senders who are on the list.)

In Hotmail's version, incoming e-mail from senders that match entries in the recipient's address book are displayed in what Hotmail calls its "Today" page, which greets the Hotmail account holder with basic information about the account--along with a slew of MSN marketing messages.

"Your session will always start on the Today page, where you will only see new messages from people you know," the preview's audio explanation says. "To qualify as someone you know, the sender has to have an e-mail address that is only in your contacts. As a result, you will only see the messages that are important to you first."

Hotmail account holders can then click on their "Mail" tab to find the full contents of their in-box. Hotmail also offers a "Junk E-Mail" folder, where it delivers messages the system suspects of being spam.

Rising frustration at the cost and volume of spam has fueled a new market for products and services that are designed to mitigate and manage spam.

The preview came after news of Yahoo's new antispam features, which include the option of setting up dummy e-mail addresses when subscribing to services on the Internet, and showed up the same day the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would criminalize spam and set up a nationwide list of people who do not want to receive spam.

In addition to the white list, Hotmail will make it easier for account holders to report spam. Yahoo has focused on its reporting system in order to improve its spam filters, which have dramatically reduced the amount of spam that reaches its in-boxes. The Hotmail update will also indicate with a label whether or not messages in the in-box are from the recipient's contacts.

Microsoft promised a preview "soon" of changes coming to its Calendar and Contacts applications.

The company did not return calls seeking comment. But EarthLink and America Online, Microsoft's main competitors in the e-mail and Internet service provider market, were quick to point out that their services already have address book white lists.

"Spam is an industrywide problem, and we're pleased that Microsoft is planning to implement similar versions of antispam technologies that AOL first unveiled last year," an AOL representative said.

AOL said it introduced a "known contacts" mail icon last fall and the ability to sort or view mail from known contacts with the introduction of its 9.0 version in July.