United Online Targets Spam Scourge

It was an aggravating summer for email users who watched helplessly as their in-boxes clogged with unwanted messages.

Besides wasting time purging offers to help misunderstood potentates, enhance certain body parts and refinance homes, some users unwittingly opened messages carrying stow-away viruses that siphoned computing power and replicated themselves through address books.

The deluge also plagued ISPs, which faced bandwidth strains and in some cases the unpleasant fact that spammers who set up email accounts with them. EarthLink recently filed a $5 million lawsuit against 100 alleged spammers.

Against this backdrop, United Online has launched a new version of its Web-based email for subscribers of its Juno and NetZero Internet services featuring enhanced filters.

The software uses tools, including a blocked sender list and junk mail folder, to intercept unwanted messages before they reach in-boxes. Such tools are also offered by Microsoft’s Web email service, Hotmail, and others.

The offering is for all Juno and NetZero customers, although more advanced features are available only to the firms’ Platinum and high-speed subscribers. The company boast more than 2.5 million paying customers for its so-called value Internet service. Pricing starts at $9.95 per month.

“The introduction of our new email system focuses on this universal issue and implements powerful filtering and preventative technologies,” said Brian Woods, a United Online vice president.

A United Online spokesman added that back-end spam controls were in use previously, but the new offering puts more control in the hands of users.

The Radicati Group estimates that 4.9 trillion spam emails will be sent in 2003. And while there’s support for anti-spam legislation (similar to the do-not-call lists banning telemarketers from calling customers who sign up), there’s no timeline for passage, or guarantee it will be effective.

In the meantime, United Online and its rivals, will have to continue fighting their own war on spam.

In other ISP news, EarthLink unveiled new Internet access software today. The Atlanta company said TotalAccess 2004 features tighter spam and pop-up ad controls for its narrowband and broadband customers.

The software is free and can be downloaded through EarthLink’s homepage.

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