A group at the University of Texas is determined to reduce the amount of spam by releasing a list of the top companies who allow spam emails to be sent to their users.
Everyone knows the frustration that comes along with opening your email account only to have to sift through countless spam messages about “free iPads” or “island getaways.” Just by giving your email address out to one questionable institution, your message box can become so flooded that it becomes impossible to find the emails you actually need to read. A group at the University of Texas, the Center for Research in Economic Commerce (CREC), is trying to tackle this problem, one institution at a time.
CREC has launched a new website, SpamRankings.net. This site lists the top institutions worldwide whose online systems allow the most spam to be sent to users, which is often a result of hacking due to subpar security. The institutions listed range from medical systems to Internet companies. The goal of the site is to allow institutions to realize the problems their systems are causing and to tighten security to protect users.
“Traditional Internet security hasn't worked for spam, which accounts for more than 90 percent of all email, and keeps coming back despite host takedowns, botnet takedowns, blocklists, and other such measures,” CREC director Andrew Whinston said. “So we decided to try a different approach, one that would put reputational pressure on the organizations that let spam out; pressures that translate into economic incentives. Nobody wants to do business with a spam haven, so organizations that don't stop outbound spam will have to consider what their customers think about that.”
The creators expect that the website will elicit positive response both from companies that rank well and those that rank poorly.
“Organizations that rank well (which usually means they don't show up in the rankings at all, or that improve over time) can brag,” Whinston said. “Organizations that rank poorly (which means high scores, like in golf) will be visible to their customers, and their customers may complain. This gives organizations incentive to make changes.”
The CREC team that worked on the project was composed of both center researchers and UT graduate students from a variety of departments. The team is getting the word about the project in a variety of ways, both through UT press releases and emails and through the website itself and its personnel. They hope the ranked institutions will soon become aware of the listing and will begin to make constructive changes to make the Internet a safer, less cluttered entity.
“We're all ears for more ideas,” Whinston said.