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Last updated: 10:15 AM EDT

Vanquish Spam

Thursday, August 8, 2002

By Jim Bodor
Telegram & Gazette Staff

MARLBORO -- What is spam? To Philip R. Raymond, it is any e-mail you don't want.
     It could arrive from an online travel service, an overseas business, or even that brother-in-law you haven't talked to in 10 years. If you don't want it, it's spam.
     That is the premise behind a new anti-spam product being created by Mr. Raymond and a company he has co-founded with three others, Vanquish Inc.
     Vanquish has developed the technology to allow e-mail recipients to require senders to post a cash bond -- of 5 cents to 30 cents -- with every piece of e-mail they send.
     If the recipient of an e-mail decides they do not want it, they can penalize the sender by demanding payment of the bond. The money is collected by the sender's Internet service provider along with whatever monthly fee the sender usually pays. If the sender refuses to pay, the Internet service providers can turn off the service.
     Mr. Raymond believes the bond will be an effective deterrent to unsolicited spam. A friend or relative sending e-mail would have nothing to worry about. Anyone listed in your address book would be exempt from the bond.
     Other messages would come with a note attached allowing the recipient to penalize the mailer or allow the mail through. If the mailer is penalized, it incurs a fee on all future e-mail sent to you.
     Such a system applies capitalism to the problem of spam, said Mr. Raymond, who said he receives as many as 1,200 unwanted e-mails a day.
     A bulk mailer who today sends untargeted, unsolicited e-mails to any address it can find incurs no cost.
     With Vanquish in place, that same mailer could potentially face small fees from thousands or even millions of people -- making the mailer think twice before sending unwanted, untargeted or unsolicited e-mail.
     The product also gives Internet service providers a way to reduce the number of spam e-mails they handle, and even garner revenue from spams.
     Internet service providers process 2.34 billion unwanted e-mail messages per day, or 32 percent of all e-mail messages, a waste of time and resources that will cost the industry more than $20 billion this year, according to a study by The Radicati Group Inc., a California-based market research firm.
     “When you send out spam, you're sapping the system of strength at no cost to yourself,” Mr. Raymond said. “So we thought, what if we reverse the economics of the situation, so the sender pays if the message is not accepted?”
     Vanquish's product is patent pending, and will be ready commercially in November. The company hopes to sell the program directly to Internet service providers and to large corporations that want to keep spam from reaching employees.
     “Spam is the biggest problem at ISPs right now,” Mr. Raymond said. “It's what makes it unprofitable to be an ISP.”
     Vanquish got an initial $100,000 investment from Francis F. Lee, a retired MIT professor of computer science and the inventor of the EKG heart monitor. Mr. Lee also was one of the early investors in Charles River Ventures, a venture capital fund in Waltham.
     Mr. Lee said he decided to invest in the company after meeting Mr. Raymond at a computer trade show in Marlboro. Mr. Raymond is the former founder of Architectural Communications Inc. of Westboro. Harold Weiss, Vanquish's chief engineering officer, also previously worked at ACI.
     “I think they've got something very exciting,” Mr. Lee said. “I think it's going to change the way the Internet is used. All the other screeners out there try to define spam artificially. The only way spam can be defined is by the recipient.”
     Other funds have been contributed by Mr. Raymond and other individual investors. The company is trying to raise $1.2 million to fund its growth. Three more investors contributed $50,000 each to the company this week.
     Vanquish is trying to gain market share in a crowded field. At least three companies, Brightmail Inc., Lyris Technologies and Tumbleweed Communications Corp., dominate the market, according to The Radicati Group, with Brightmail serving six of the 10 largest Internet service providers, including Earthlink Inc., for example.
     Several smaller companies also offer services that can be downloaded by consumers to block spam. DigiPortal Software Inc. offers a program that also allows users to screen e-mail senders, while Cloudmark Inc. offers a product that allows its users to vote on what is spam, and then block senders from the entire group.
     Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. also offer built-in filters in their newest e-mail products.
     Mr. Raymond argues that Vanquish will be able to capture the attention of consumers with its effectiveness.
     “We believe this will be the death of spam,” he said.

©2002 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.