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Microsoft said yesterday it had introduced a white list scheme to allow well-behaved email marketing firms to reach its customers without falling foul of its spam filters.

Marketing firms who post a cash bond of up to $20,000 through IronPort's "Bonded Sender Programme" will get guarantees that their message will be delivered to the estimated 170 million regular users of Microsoft's Hotmail and MSN e-mail services, providing they follow a strict set of guidelines. Firms who flout the guidelines - standards that exceed those defined in the CAN-SPAM Act - risk losing their money. The approach rewards marketeers who agree to be held accountable for the messages they send. Microsoft has been working on the programme with IronPort for five months but the arrangement was only made public yesterday.

With the support of Microsoft, more firms are likely to adopt the scheme. Good news for Ironport's sales team. Microsoft is behind the idea because it wants to reclaim email marketing from criminal spammers. For end users the scheme makes it less likely that messages they have requested from companies they do business with will be blocked (i.e. fewer false positives).

The downside is that what users think of as spam and what marketeers think of as spam are sometimes two different things. Excluding the get-rich-quick scams and penis pills it's not too long before we get into areas of potential dispute. In theory, Hotmail's filters could be adapted to apply tougher rules the spam-like email that isn't certified but whether this works in practice is still open to question. We fear Hotmail users will likely end up with just as much junk mail as before - except some of it will be certified as safe. ®

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