Why Would AOL Abuse

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-03-01 Print this article Print

Their Users?"> So in the coalitions view of the future, big business will be able to send you e-mail, but you wont be able to assume that your family will. The coalition must assume that AOL users will take this sitting down and not take their business elsewhere. Or perhaps they assume that after some users leave, AOL will get rich off of the certification fees for sending mail to the remaining users.
Its hard to imagine a company like AOL, which actually enjoys the highest of reputations for spam blocking and customer service, treating their users in this way. But the coalition has a better imagination than I do.

The coalition must assume (and Im guessing here) that AOL would never agree to use a service like Goodmail if they werent getting good money from it, but the truth is just a tad more complicated. When legitimate commercial e-mails dont get through it becomes a support problem both for the sender and for AOL. Minimizing support problems is a major cost issue for large ISPs like AOL. E-mail sent through Goodmail should be relatively support-free for AOL because Goodmails main function is to vet the senders to make sure that they are legitimate organizations that only send opt-in mail and observe relevant laws. Decreasing the need for support should be something that will make AOL users happy, and therefore Goodmail should do that. These are reasons why AOL would adopt Goodmail, not direct revenue from it, although theres no reason for them to turn down such revenue. Opposition grows against AOLs e-mail plan. Click here to read more. Purposefully degrading the quality of their e-mail service would be corporate suicide for a company like AOL. The coalition might agree and consider their petition a warning to the company, but its a warning about a nonexistent threat. There is also the general claim that charitable organizations wont be able to get their mail through to users. "AOLs e-mail tax could potentially block every AOL subscriber suffering from any form of cancer from receiving potentially life-saving information," said Gilles Frydman, head of the Association for Cancer Online Resources. Im just aghast at this cheap shot, based as it is on no factual information at all. Theres just no reason for ACOR and its e-mail recipients to assume theyll be any worse-off with certified e-mail in place than without it. The coalition also misrepresents the treatment of nonprofits by Goodmail. They note that nonprofits are eligible for free service through 2006 but say: "Some nonprofits that meet unspecified qualifications would get free certified mail this year—but they would have no guarantee that their e-mails would be delivered after that." Goodmail actually says that "Beyond 2006, Goodmail will provide generous discounts to nonprofits and price CertifiedEmail as low as possible yet maintain the systems integrity and security." The coalition notes that there are hardware and software costs to signing up to send through Goodmail. Why would nonprofits sign up, as the American Red Cross did? Because when a crisis like Hurricane Katrina strikes they need to get out as many e-mails as they can and have them trusted by recipients. Even charities have costs to doing business and some are better investments than others. Perhaps Goodmail will give the ARC better delivery and trust rates and thereby more money. Is this a bad thing? Goodmail is not the first accreditation service on the Internet. Lots of companies use Bonded Sender and Habeas to send mail and lots of ISPs (including AOL) support them on the receive end. While they work differently than Goodmail, these are pay services which result in the same type of effect as Goodmail: preferential treatment for messages.

Why didnt the coalition rant over those services? I dont mean to assert any malicious intent on the coalitions part: theyre just flat-out incoherent. The issue theyre fighting doesnt exist.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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