Remember Habeas? This is the company which copyrighted a bit of haiku,
then restricted the right to include that "work of art" in the headers of
an email message. Only non-spam messages could contain the poem without
violating the license. The idea was that mail filters could look for the
Habeas mark and, upon finding it, deliver the mail with confidence that it
The folks at Habeas were, apparently, surprised to discover that spammers
are not as respectful as one might like of copyright law - or much of
anything else. It did not take them all that long to start including the
Habeas headers in their solicitations, especially once they figured out
that filters like SpamAssassin gave a strong bonus to such messages. Rather
than being a guarantee of legitimacy, the Habeas headers quickly became one
of the most reliable indicators of spam. The SpamAssassin bonus came out,
and Habeas disappeared from view.
The company is still there, however, and they have not given up. A new press
release issued by the company celebrates the fact that
SpamAssassin 3.0 once again gives a bonus to Habeas-marked mail.
There is a new twist, however: Habeas now implements an online whitelist of
senders whose mail is really thought to be legitimate. Strangely
enough, getting onto the whitelist requires that a fee be paid to Habeas.
This new service might just work for certain kinds of commercial emailers,
as long as Habeas sticks to its anti-spam standards. We may be seeing the
beginning of a shift to a reputation-based mechanism for the filtering of
email. Blacklists were clearly the first step in that direction, but they
are limited in their scope. A scheme which can track positive reputations
might, just, bring a finer degree of control to the spam filtering
problem. Or it might just herald an era where purchasing yet another
useless digital certificate will be required to get email delivered at
all. Either way, it is a development worth watching.
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