Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TEOS Lives On: And its time may yet come

For those who missed it the first time round, TEOS is the acronym for Trusted Email Open Standard, a proposal for reducing spam by increasing trust in email. TEOS was introduced in April of 2003 at a Federal Trade Commission Anti-Spam. More than 30,000 people downloaded the 35-page standards document in the first eight months that it was available online. The FTC still hosts a pdf copy of the document today, at the FTC web site. There is some archival coverage of the FTC summit here and coverage of TEOS here and also here.

But what has spam got to do with privacy?

First of all, a lot of people would probably agree that spam is an invasion of privacy, the privacy of one's in-basket. Second, it can be argued that, if there was a trustworthy way of ensuring that the privacy preferences of consumers were respected, it would be possible for email to be widely and beneficially used for commercial purposes without creating spam.

So what happened to TEOS?

Well, a lot of people read it (c.f. the 30,000+ downloads) and Bill Gates plagiarized it in a letter to Congress in May of 2003. Here is what he wrote:

...we support the establishment of an independent trust authority or authorities around the globe that could spearhead industry best practices, and then serve as an ongoing resource for email certification and customer dispute resolution. In short, these authorities could provide mechanisms to identify legitimate email, making it easier for consumers and businesses to distinguish wanted mail from unwanted mail. Of course, any technology designed to establish the identity of legitimate commercial firms and associate them with a trusted sender "seal" should be based on open standards and developed with broad input from affected industries.

This is exactly what TEOS had earlier proposed but he conveniently omitted mention of the standard or its authors at ePrivacy Group (which included me). However, TEOS also proposed, and depended upon, cooperation between the large email vendors. They talked about it. Meetings were held. But nothing came of it. Which is sad news for all email users.

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