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Browse Prior Art Database

Authenticating electronic mail address and tracking their distribution

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000033638D
Original Publication Date: 2004-Dec-20
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2004-Dec-20
Document File: 5 page(s) / 89K

Publishing Venue

IBM

Abstract

The basic idea of this invention is to allow a user to generate email addresses, which include unique "metadata" information per session/addressee. The user owns the email address and corresponds by email with many other users. The user's email address contains an additional string of characters or, alternately, the address can be replaced by such a string. The string is encrypted, so that it can be decrypted only by the user. Such an encrypted string is generated each time the user sends an email. It is enclosed as part of the "Return Address" field of the user's email. The encrypted message contains the address/es to which the message is sent, and possibly also the date, session information and other metadata, or an index to such metadata that is being kept in the user's private database.

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Authenticating electronic mail address and tracking their distribution

This invention is in the field of privacy protection in the context of information technology. More specifically, it provides an efficient way to protect email addresses from being distributed, sold and endlessly used by so-called spammers and direct advertizers. It also helps protect the user's privacy by allowing easy tracking of the distribution of the user's email address and tracing the origin of the address distribution ("who gave them my email address?").

In current electronic communication environment people are burdened by unsolicited electronic mail, so-called spam mail, etc. Unsolicited email is flourishing due to the following reasons:
1. it is easy and cheap to collect email addresses,
2. It is easy to store them, distribute them, and
3. It is cheap to send a message to multiple recipients.

Unsolicited email causes a lot of frustration to the recipient, who has to sort through incoming email, identify unwanted items, delete them. Unsolicited email costs in terms of work time, network load, disk storage, etc.

So far, the main effort towards decreasing the negative impact of unsolicited email has been in terms of building special so-called filters that can either be taught specific patterns, which characterize spam email (e.g., by finding certain words in the body of the email), or by automatic or semi-automatic ways of learning, using personalization, collaborative filtering etc.

All these methods attempt to filter out spam email that has already been sent, before or while it reaches the intended recipient. There is also an ongoing effort to identify abusers of mail boxes that are provided by some major internet service providers. People who wish to send spam email can still, however, find various places from which they successfully send spam email.

This invention addresses the problem from a different angle. A major factor that makes spam email so cheap and effective is that most email addresses remain valid for long periods of time. Users do not like to change their addresses, thereby losing lots of their previous contacts, having to inform many people about the change, having to update business cards, web pages and registration information at many websites. Hence, once a user's address "gets on the list" for spam, there is no way for the user to avoid receiving such mail. Here, we disclose a method that supports address admissibility. Using this method, a user would not have a single email address, but rather each of his correspondents would use a custom email address to contact the user. The mail program verifies the admissibility of the address and disregards unwanted email items, i.e., mail originating from a non-admissible source. If an admissible address is leaked to an unauthorized party, then the user would only have to disqualify this address from further use, and all subsequent emails carrying such an address would be automatically rejec...