Microsoft is adding a verified icon to Outlook.com, the online email service formerly known as Hotmail. US-based businesses can sign up to be verified here as part of a public beta.
Verified businesses will have a Twitter-style blue checkmark next to their name, as shown above. Microsoft is pitching this as a way for Outlook.com users to know whether an email is actually coming from the business they claim it is, and to quickly do things like find a phone number or unsubscribe from a mailing list.
To quote a Windows blog post announcing the feature:
Brands now can obtain a verified icon, making it easier for you to identify legitimate businesses in your inbox. And with the new profile card, you quickly have access to contact information, package deliveries, reservations, store locations and more. You’ll also be able to easily see what newsletters you’re enrolled in, and unsubscribe in one click with the new subscription portal. Finally, we are making it easy to find promotions in your inbox by surfacing offer details right in your message list, so you don’t have to open the email to see the deal.
It’s kind of surprising no one has tried something like this before. There are systems in place for verifying an email address isn’t spoofed, including DKIM (public key encryption for outgoing emails). This is different: it’s a user-facing feature on a consumer email service, using a visual marker people already understand.
Phishing is rampant, and a lot of it depends on users believing that a false email actually comes from a prominent brand. Can a verification system like that help? Only if most businesses end up verified, and even then only if Microsoft’s verification process is robust. Microsoft will take a lot of crap if a phisher ever manages to get a blue checkmark.
Which is probably why Microsoft, for their part, did not mention phishing in their pitch for the product. Still, I can’t help but wonder if features like this can help fight a problem that’s still rampant, especially if other email providers do something similar.