AOL, Yahoo to Charge For E-mail
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Companies that have buttered their bread by sending free e-mail via AOL and Yahoo will soon have the option to pay to ensure their messages arrive at their target destinations.
AOL in the coming months will begin charging a fraction of a penny or more per message in what they claim is an attempt to decrease the spam and identity fraud scams that plague the Internet, confirmed AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham.
Graham said AOL will retain its free e-mail services, the AOL Whitelist and Enhanced Whitelist.
But he said the giant service provider is adding a "voluntary, additional layer of e-mail delivery" that will make it possible for companies to buy a sort of digital postage stamp -- from a quarter of a cent to one penny per message -- for assurance that their e-mail will be delivered to their customers.
With this service, messages form paying senders will go straight to the inboxes of people who have agreed to receive their messages, bypassing spam filters and other devices to catch spammers and fraudsters.
Graham said this paid e-mail option, which he compares to the kind of guaranteed delivery services Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service offer in the offline world, is a "weapon" against the growing sophistication of perpetrators seeking to dupe consumers.
"At its core, what we're doing is all about safety and security of our members and doing everything that we can to help maintain the trust in and the integrity of the e-mail system of the Web, which has been constantly under attack from Internet miscreants like scammers phishers and spammers," Graham told internetnews.com.
"We look at this as a kind of return receipt requested e-mail service that people willingly pay for because they want to know guaranteed delivery and they want to see the results of what they send."
Graham said the plan stems from an October 2005 agreement AOL and Yahoo inked with e-mail certification specialist Goodmail Systems.
In this arrangement, every message that is sent through the Goodmail CertifiedEmail service is embedded with a cryptographically secure token. These tokens must be detected by participating service providers before the message can be delivered to a recipient's inbox identified as a CertifiedEmail message.
CertifiedEmail messages will be marked with a trust symbol in the inboxes of AOL and Yahoo customers. Unpaid messages will be subject to the service providers' spam-filtering process, which diverts suspicious messages to a special spam folder.
Goodmail will charge 1/4 cent to 1 cent per message. High-volume mailers would get the biggest discounts. Goodmail will give more than half of that amount to AOL, or whoever the e-mail service provider may be.
While AOL is posing the solution as a way to make sure legitimate e-mailers get through and to avoid identity theft schemes, the company also stands to make millions a year from the arrangement.
Ditto for e-mail service providers, such as Yahoo and Microsoft, who choose to enlist Goodmail's help in making a buck while swatting aside unsolicited e-mails.
Yahoo did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment, but it is believed the service provider will start trying out Goodmail's system this year.
"Yahoo is committed to protecting the inbox. In working with Goodmail, we are continuing our multi-faceted approach to ensure our users have a safer and more secure email experience through the use of enhanced technologies," said Andy Spillane, vice president of Yahoo Mail, in a statement announcing its partnership with Goodmail last October.
The news comes as the Senate Commerce Committee prepares to consider banning Internet access companies from giving preferred status to content providers. The concern is that companies that do not pay could find it hard to reach customers or attract new ones.
Industry executives also voiced their concerns.
Eric Thomas, creator of the LISTSERV e-mail list management software and CEO of L-Soft, protested AOL's move because he says the Goodmail fees will be prohibitive to some senders.
"You end up with a situation where, if your non-commercial newsletter is successful, it is driven out of business by the Goodmail fee, and you have to turn it into a commercial venture just to survive," Thomas said.
"In order to be acceptable to the community, the certification process must be available for a reasonable fixed fee and from a choice of several certification providers."