Last week, Phil Goldman, who used to be a vice president at Microsoft Corp., launched Mailblocks, Inc. And Goldman launched the company with a grand pronouncement. He guaranteed that his antispam service would bring a complete end to spam making its way into people's mailboxes.
That's a gutsy promise when it comes to a problem that the industry has been wrestling with -- largely unsuccessfully -- for years.
''We want to make it clear to everyone that we have a completely different way to fight spam,'' says Goldman. ''This is the only way to stop spam. We stop all spam. Filtering and blacklisting leaves your computer trying to guess what is spam and what is not. We decided instead to fool their computers so they can't spam you.''
Mailblocks uses an authentication technology to stop spam from getting as far as an inbox.
Emails sent from new people who are not in the user's addresses list are put in a `pending' folder and automatically sent a request to authenticate -- called a challenge. Machine-generated email cannot reply to the challenge email so the original email is never put into the consumer's Inbox. New users must only respond once to a Challenge and are automatically recognized after that. The only email users see is from recognized correspondents or new contacts who respond to the Challenge email.
The system is designed to allow users to import their existing address books and add the names of those whose email they wish to receive. Those senders will not be asked to authenticate their identity.
The Mailblocks announcement comes amid growing concern and worldwide aggravation over the proliferation of spam.
Many industry analysts and antispam companies have noted that spam grew four-fold last year, clogging inboxes and bandwidth at a phenomenal rate. Eric Hemmendinger, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group, predicts that it's only going to get worse this year.
''We expect that if last year spam was on the order of 25 percent of corporate email, it will be in the range of 50% this year,'' said Hemmendinger in an earlier interview. ''The spammers are getting smarter. Every time they see a new technique for stopping them, they find a new way to bypass it.''
But this time, Goldman thinks he's outsmarted the spammers.
''when I had the idea last year, it was like a light bulb going off over my head,'' he says. ''I said, I know how to eliminate spam. I couldn't believe that no one had thought of it. I went off to patent it and found that a dozen people had thought of it. I contacted the original patent holder and he agreed to sell his patent to me.''
Goldman declined to say what he paid for the patent, other than saying that it was `a lot of money'.
Goldman also says that in the first week of business they had 20 times as many customers as they had expected.