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BYU professor's system outwits "spam" E-mails

Telephone solicitations and unwanted E-mail "spam" may not pester consumers anymore with a new process developed by Marriott School of Management research fellow Scott Sampson.

"This system puts E-mail recipients back in control," Sampson said. "It provides much more reliability than typical E-mail filtering methods."

His new process works by E-mail users issuing tokens (typically a set of numbers and/or letters) to others from whom they desire to receive E-mail. The token issuer records the issued tokens in a "token action log," which may also indicate how many responses he wants to receive from the person, how long the token can be used and other conditions for token use.

A key element is that all incoming E-mail must either include a valid token that was previously issued, or the sender must be listed in the token action log as someone who does not need a token. Messages that do not meet this condition will be automatically rejected, and the sender will be told he or she needs to be issued a token in order to send messages to that person.

A "token log manager" is also part of the software that receives E-mail messages and checks them for valid tokens. The token log manager initiates the actions that were previously recorded in the token action log.

Major messages might come with a token indicating "high importance." The token action log might say that messages with that token should be displayed in a bold font, cause a special notification sound or even be automatically forwarded to a pager.

"The types of actions recorded in a token action log are almost limitless," states Sampson. For example, an RSVP survey can be sent out with a token that automatically files E-mail responses in a response folder. "The nice thing about this system is that you have minimal need to sort your incoming E-mail-instead, you let your token log manager do it for you."

"This is the only fool-proof method to prevent 'spam' that I know of," Sampson said. "It would be very difficult to circumvent this system. We no longer need to be afraid of giving out our E-mail address to on-line businesses."

The technology would allow an Internet shopper to receive a receipt or shipment notification via E-mail without being troubled by solicitations from other businesses that may have bought his or her E-mail from the original vendor. The token log would simply say that the token issued to the on-line merchant is valid only for one use or for a limited number of days.

Sampson said this process could also prevent unwanted telephone solicitations, manage parking facilities and assist professors in course management.

"I could set up a token action log entry so that every time I receive an E-mail from a student asking about his or her grade, it would automatically send that student's grade," Sampson said,

"My hope for this is to eliminate some of the bad side effects of the Internet. This system lets E-mail users take control again," said Sampson, who received his MBA and Ph.D. degrees from the Darden School at the University of Virginia.

As an associate professor of operations management at BYU, Sampson has taught and conducted research at the Marriott School since 1996.

Writer: Adrienne Babbitt

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