Frequently Asked Questions
v 1.2
  • What is Sender-at-Risk messaging?
  • How can you force a spammer to put up money?
      Often they don't provide a truthful address
  • What about Sender ID or Domain Keys? Don't
      they verify the IP address, or the route?
  • What is the purpose of the Initiative?
  • Does the group represent only inventors?
  • Who is the audience for the inventions?
  • Must ISPs pay a fee to test for risk?
  • Who controls the Accountability Initiative?

  • What is "Sender at Risk" messaging?

    Sender at Risk mechanisms (also called Attention Bonds, Warranties, Guaranteed delivery, Assured Messaging) are mentioned most often in the context of blocking spam. But in fact, they address the inverse problem: They can assure that messages get delivered - or that contact is successful - even in the presence of aggressive antispam mechanisms such as filters and black lists. Together with effective antispam tools at the recipient or service provider, they result in a clean communication channel that delivers only relevant and desirable messages.

    How can you force a spammer to put up money?
    Often, they don't provide a truthful From address

    There is a lot of confusion concerning "sender at risk" introductions - or more accurately "interruptions". In practice, the technique works brilliantly - but the organizations creating and deploying these mechanism need to better explain why its use is trivial and effective...
    • No one is forced to put up money. The process is sender driven
    • The presence of a truthful FROM address is irrelevant. The sender's cash is authenticated, not an address or identity
    • The act of a sender going "at risk" does not stop spam. That's accomplished by traditional filters. Instead, the mechanism guarantees the relevance of individual messages so that filters and black lists can avoid improperly intercepting them.

    What about Sender ID or Domain Keys? Don't
    they verify the IP address, or the route?

    For existing contacts, an authenticated sender is a valuable piece of information. It is evidence of desirable content, because the interruption is based on a prior relationship. But the identity of a stranger says nothing about the importance of their mission as it relates to your interests. It is less meaningful than a clear, bankable demonstration that the sender knows enough about you to risk his pocketbook. Sender risk is evidence of a stranger's confidence in the careful targeting of their message. Sufficient risk is a better clue to relevant contact and the motives of senders then "content clues", such as the words "Viagra" or "mortgage", the similarity messages sent to other recipients, or the past behavior of an mail provider.

    Analogy: Suppose that you are working frantically toward a deadline. On the phone and at the door, there are a great number of interruptions. Time is precious. You wish to be insulated from anything that is not immediately relevant. Your secretary is a computer program. In his capacity as a filter, he often turns away important visitors that you would have preferred to receive. But suppose he could override his programming when in the presence of sender risk. At the door, he hears "Knock, Knock". Of course he could ask "Who's there?" (the function of a white list or Sender ID). But the name of stranger - even when verified - doesn't convey the importance of a message or its immediate relevance. On the other hand, if the stranger slips $200 under the door for the privilege of announcing information, it may be worthwhile to listen. In practice, people offered cash guarantees rarely cash the deposit, because the information is personally desirable. Taking the money would discourage other strangers from offering personally desirable information - even if they have reliable information about the recipients preferences and needs.

    What is the purpose of the Accountability Initiative

    The Accountability Initiative has 3 goals:
    • Create a single-licensing entity for anyone wishing to embody SR mechanisms within commercial products or services. Licensees benefit from reduced cost, a simple and easy to compute expense, and access to the IP of all inventors in the collective.
    • Promote a common reference specification for the assured delivery of electronic messages (e.g. email)
    • Develop test tools and a program to certify interoperability
    IP represented by the working group is not restricted to implementations that comply with suggested specifications, reference designs, or interoperability testing. The methods and technology of the member inventors may be used to deploy proprietary products or products that do not relate to message deliverability.

    Does the initiative represent only inventors?

    Initially the initiative is composed of inventors or the companies to which they have assigned patent rights. Academic experts are also involved to validate methods and arbitrate the relative value of IP. After the first few meetings which focus on the pooling of member resources related to patents and trade secrets, the group will welcome applications by prospective licensees, anti-spam providers, marketing communications organizations, and observers such as journalists. Anyone interested in joining now or later should register here so that they can receive mailings.

    Who is the audience for these inventions?

    Software and service companies that create, route, or deliver potentially unsolicited content to subscribers. These include ISPs (or mail providers), phone companies, software companies, and network infrastructure companies.

    Must ISPs pay to test for risk?

    On the contrary, some marketers have expressed a desire to pay ISPs just to ensure that thee risk within messages to strangers is tested! That's because they believe that ISPs will agree to waive messages past their traditional filters if an unrecognized sender has placed himself at risk of a substantial penalty.

    The business model currently being considered would not charge recipients or their providers (such as ISPs and phone companies) to test for sender risk, just as Adobe does not charge users of Acrobat reader to view and print PDF files.

    Who controls the Accountability Initiative?

    The Accountability Initiative is the "Sender At Risk Working Group" of the MIT Spam Forum. It was started in June 2005 by Marshall Van Alstyne, an economist affiliated with MIT and BU, and staff members of Vanquish Labs, a New England software developer with related IP and commercial activities. The working group is a level playing field, including rotating chairperson, distributed administration and member financing.