GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkEconomic Spam Solutions Gain An Unfortunate Foothold
05:23:48 PM

I ranted about economic spam solutions just a couple of weeks ago. Just to refresh your memory without regurgitating the full rant: they will never work, because spammers are criminals who won't think twice about making someone else pay the cost of sending their messages. Until we have replaced all the hundreds of millions computers around the world that are running fundamentally insecure software with ones that are truly secure, economic solutions to spam are a fools errand and an open invitation to disasterous unintended consequences.

In two recent articles, Matt Blumberg revealed that AOL will be using a system from Goodmail through which senders of commercial email can pay a fee per message to insure delivery of their email. (I should probably mention at this point that Mr. Blumberg has his own skin in the assured email delivery game, so his remarks on this may not be entire objective.) A press release about AOL's adoption of Goodmail was issued earlier in the week, and the New York Times is now running a story about it, which says that Yahoo is doing the same.

Nicholas Carr picked up on it, and commented on it in a short piece titled The net's killer app,

E-mail was the internet's original killer app - the service that spurred the multitudes to go online. Now, it may turn into a very different kind of killer app - the one that kills the traditional internet.

As I understand it, the upshot of this is that if you are a "legitimate" email marketer, you can agree to pay AOL (and I presume also the middle-man, Goodmail) a small fee per message that they deliver. For that fee, you get an exemption from AOL's spam filtering. In other words, its a move beyond the BondedSender program (which Mr. Blumberg is associated with) in which email marketers agreed to post a bond that they would forfeit if they were caught violating the rules of good conduct -- opt-in, unsubscribe, accurate and labled subject lines, etc. While the Goodmail system may in fact work well for AOL and Yahoo in terms of the purpose that it is intended to serve, it is dangerous for two reasons.

One reason that it is dangerous is that it gives AOL and Yahoo a profit motive to deliver junk mail to users. And yes, I did say junk mail. Despite the quotation marks I used earlier, I actually do believe that there is such a thing as a legitimate email marketer, but I still classify some email sent out by legitimate email marketers as "junk". Goodmail does require double opt-in to qualify a sender for the program, but when someone signs me up for a mailing list without my consent and I receive the opt-in confirmation email, that message is "junk". Another case in which I get "junk" mail from legitmate email marketers occurs when I get tired of receiving messages from a particular source and I attempt to unsubscribe but it doesn't work for whatever reason. Now, I'm sure that Goodmail will say that if they hear many complaints that a sender's unsubscribe system doesn't work they'll de-certify that sender --but can we really trust that to happen given the direct conflict with Goodmail's profit-motivated desire to collect as many per-message fees as possible?

The second reason this is dangerous is that it encourages people to believe that economic solutions may be generalizable outside of the realm of assuring delivery of legitimate email marketers' messages. They can't. See above. See my rant.

I don't have an AOL account. I do have a Yahoo account that I use for occasional test purposes. I think I'll cancel it. I don't want to be associated in any way with an ISP that lends credence to the idea that economic solutions to spam will work.

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