Skip to content


DearAOL and GoodMail

Things have really been heating up recently around the AOL/Goodmail “pay to send” CertifiedMail scheme — the EFF and a host of other groups have launched, stating:

This system would create a two-tiered Internet in which affluent mass emailers could pay AOL a fee that amounts to an “email tax” for every email sent, in return for a guarantee that such messages would bypass spam filters and go directly to AOL members’ inboxes. Those who did not pay the “email tax” would increasingly be left behind with unreliable service. Your customers expect that your first obligation is to deliver all of their wanted mail, and this plan is a step away from that obligation.

While I dislike this proposal, too, as far as I can tell, AOL actually have pretty reasonable intentions with this program — nowhere near as bad as the site makes out.

However, they’re doing a really really crappy job of getting this information out there, or committing to reasonable limits on the program, such as announcing that they will use it only for transactional emails, as Yahoo! have done.

I’d strongly recommend reading Carl Hutzler’s posting on the subject. Carl was AOL’s head of anti-spam operations until last year, so he really knows what he’s talking about, and he lays it out clearly — a lot more clearly than any corporate statements from AOL do. His blog contains a fair bit more on the subject, too.

But seriously — why isn’t there a press release on the AOL site about this scheme? Some front-channel communication about now might be useful, I’d suggest, before things really get hairy — this crapstorm is coming about partly because AOL’s comments are all filtering out in drips and drabs via third parties, and (AOLers say) are being misconstrued and misrepresented in the process. It’s a classic case of missing the cluetrain.

I’d also really encourage the EFF people to tone done the rhetoric; statements like “senders will have no guarantee that their emails will be delivered” is scare-mongering, given that SMTP email already provides no such guarantee.

Update: wow, MoveOn went really overboard — “threatening the Internet as we know it … The very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet as we know it are under attack.” OMG the sky is falling!

Side Issue: The Spam Definition

Also, another note to EFF: defining spam as “whatever you don’t want to read” is a terrible mistake to make. That confuses a good, clear, enforceable and automatable definition of spam — unsolicited bulk email — and makes it effectively unenforceable by law, unpoliceable by ISPs, impossible to detect automatically, and incompatible with existing, effective EU and Australian legislation.

Listen to your own Chairman of the Board; he’s right on this count.

PS: any luck fixing up the non-confirmed signups issue? Last time I checked I could still subscribe any address to the EFF Action Alerts without a cross-check, which is not a good thing.