Terry Zink: Security Talk

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The future of spam filtering (?)

The future of spam filtering (?)

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One of the interesting things about working for Microsoft is that it is a big company that has got its fingers in many different pies.  It's main products are Windows and Office, but now it has minor players that could eventually become big players.  These minor players are X-Box, mobile communications (Windows Mobile - an OS for cell phones), digital music (the Zune) and Windows Live.  The one space that I see spam filtering becoming heavily integrated with is mobile communications.

At the company meeting in Septmeber, Steve Ballmer said that the company has learned something the hard way - when given a choice between getting a product for free and putting up with some advertising vs paying for it with no advertising, people will put up with the ads.  People like getting stuff for free, and besides, viewing ads aren't so bad.  It's a small price to pay when you get something for free as long as it isn't too annoying.

I think that spam filtering will eventually migrate onto mobile communications.  Hear me out and follow my line of thinking; currently, nobody that I am aware of does sms filtering from the spam filtering world.  People today can get advertising on their cell phones but I don't know if the providers have any filtering service.  In the future, perhaps providers will need spam filters from unscrupulous advertisers who take advantage of text messaging, but that's not where I am going with this.  Instead, I think it's possible that we will get an ad-based cell phone service.  Cell phone providers will start having service plans that are a reduced rate if the customer is willing to put up with some advertising.  I don't know how this would work, maybe every time they start their phone they get a new ad, or when they finish a call a new ad is displayed.  Perhaps people will get desktop backgrounds with Coke or Pepsi on it and it cannot be changed.  In any case, that's a potential cash-cow for mobile phone companies since they can sell more phones or my plans and then let advertisers come to them.

However, as is happening now, I'll bet that spammers will figure out a way to "advertise" to tight-fisted cell phone purchasers (like me).  In fact, I bet that whatever form cell-phone advertising implements, spammers will figure out a way to spam users.  This is where spam filtering services like us come in.  We will have several years experience in dealing with spammers, and companies like Nokia and Ericsson will need us to provide their filtering service.  Their customers will start complaining that their ad-based phones are more irritating than they are convenient.  Heck, even paying-plan subscribers will complain that they are getting spammed, and the ones that get charged for incoming SMS messages will be incredibly hot.  Microsoft will be nicely positioned to incorporate spam filtering into Windows Mobile (or so I would assume), or even providing similar filtering services that we will provide for instant messaging.  I just hope that we don't get into providing phone service, only phone service services.

Wouldn't it be interesting if Apple, upon releasing the iPhone, contracted Microsoft to provide its filtering service?  Apple likes to in-house these things, but unless they are doing it now I would think they'd be way behind the 8-ball on that.  Of course, I would also think that an iPhone is just a cell phone and that Apple wouldn't turn into a communications company.  On the other hand, I never thought they'd turn into a digital music company, so I've been surprised before.  I wonder what types of services they could integrate between owning a Mac and an iPhone? I think I'm getting ahead of myself though, because so far cell phone spam filtering is just a figment of my imagination.  But, didn't a famous person say something about imagination?

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