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Politech is the oldest Internet resource devoted to politics and technology. Launched in 1994 by Declan McCullagh, the mailing list has chronicled the growing intersection of law, culture, technology, and politics. Since 2000, so has the Politech web site.

Yahoo, AOL, Goodmail and Politech: Paying so email goes through?

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Yahoo, AOL, Goodmail and Politech
Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2006 13:43:51 -0800
From: Cindy Cohn <cindy@eff.org>
To: declan@well.com
References: <43EA6390.6080202@farber.net>

Hi Declan,

I blogged a piece about the recent decision by AOL and Yahoo to use
the Goodmail system that might be of interest to Politech. EFF will
be  doing more on this topic, but we wanted to start the discussion.

You gonna pay? How much would it be per month for Politech?


AOL, Yahoo and Goodmail: Taxing Your Email for Fun and Profit

February 08, 2006

Remember the famous email rumor that made the rounds in the 1990s:
"Congress is trying to tax your Internet connection, write in now!"

Well what wasn't true in the 1990s is apparently coming true in 2006,
only the beneficiaries won't be Uncle Sam -- it will be Yahoo, AOL,
and a company ironically called Goodmail.  Yahoo and AOL have
announced that they will guarantee access to your email inbox for
email senders who pay $.0025 per message. They will override their
own spam filters and webbug-strippers, and deliver the mail directly
with a "certified" notice. In the process, they will treat more of
your email as spam, and email you're expecting won't be delivered.

The justification is that if people have to pay to send email, they
won't send junk email. Apparently AOL and Yahoo believe that if we
"tax" speech then only desirable speech happens. We all know how well
that works for postal mail -- that's why no one gets any "free" AOL
starter disks, right?

More seriously, as we discuss below, this isn't really an anti-spam
measure as much as a "pay to speak" email measure, and it won't end
spam or phishing.  Prominent anti-spammer Richard Cox of Spamhaus
agrees: "an e-mail charge will destroy the spirit of the Internet."

Email being basically free isn't a bug. It's a feature that has
driven the digital revolution.  It allows groups to scale up from a
dozen friends to a hundred people who love knitting to half-a-million
concerned citizens without a major bankroll.

Email readers and senders will both lose, because the incentives for
Yahoo, AOL, and Goodmail are all wrong. Their service is only
valuable if it "saves" you from their spam filters. In turn, they
have an incentive to treat more of your email as spam, and thereby
"encouraging" people to sign up.

Even email senders who just want to reach Dad@aol.com may eventually
be in trouble. Once a pay-to-speak system like this gets going, it
will be increasing difficult for people who don't pay to get their
mail through.  The system has no way to distinguish between ordinary
mail and bulk mail, spam and non-spam, personal and commercial mail.
It just gives preference to people who pay.

And prepare to be shaken down if you run a noncommercial mailing
list, whether for local bowling leagues or political organizations
with a national membership. Not only will the per-message fees
quickly add up, but the Goodmail technology will be costly for
senders to setup and use. Goodmail's giving a "special offer" for
nonprofits through 2006, but, when that ends, their messages will
presumably end up in the trash, too.

If email senders bear a burden, who gains? Not Yahoo and AOL
customers, whose email boxes are being sold off. It will presumably
be harder for even desired email to reach them.

In return, customers probably will now get not one but two helpings
of spam. For only $.0025 cent per message, Yahoo and AOL will
guarantee delivery of this extra-special "certified" paid-placement
mail, served alongside your ordinary spam. They'll also preserve
webbugs, little privacy invaders that report back when you look at
the email. Goodmail says that it will ensure that the messages aren't
spam, but it's not clear how they will enforce this. After all if a
foolproof way for a third-party to distinguish your wanted from
unwanted messages existed, we would have solved the spam problem long

What about phishing? Remember, the problem with phishing is that
ordinary end users cannot always tell when a "certification" is
real.  Spoofing the apperance of Goodmail certification to end users
should not be much of a problem, and all of the encryption in the
world won't fix that.

Spam is a real problem demanding real solutions, but taxing the
internet, even if the tax is "voluntary" and even if the money goes
to ISPs, isn't one of them.  The best solution is to put more power
in the hands of users to control and configure spam filters, and a
robust market in those filters, not allowing ISPs to auction off
access to their email boxes and ransom free speech.

EFF is working on an extended and more technical description of the
problems with Goodmail, but this is a bad idea we think should be
nipped in the bud.  We urge AOL and Yahoo subscribers and those who
communicate with them, to tell them that taxing email is not the
right way to go.


BTW, I sent a similar message to Dave Farber.

Cindy Cohn 				---- Cindy@eff.org
Legal Director 			---- www.eff.org
Electronic Frontier Foundation
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 436-9333 x108
(415) 436-9993 (fax)

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Feb 09, 2006 in category spam

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