Goodmail, One Year Later

 
 
By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-02-01 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Opinion: Opponents of the accreditation service predicted that AOL would have no incentive to maintain its standard spam filtering once it got a piece of the Goodmail action. So what actually happened?

It was a big deal, just about a year ago. AOL announced that it would be implementing Goodmail CertifiedEmail, an accreditation service. The service has been operating, according to Goodmail, since May of 2006. The way it works is that Goodmail sets technical and business criteria for e-mail senders. Those who qualify can pay a per-message fee to send specially signed messages that will be escorted around the standard AOL spam filtering procedures. The messages appear in the AOL client with a special display saying that they are certified as being from the purported sender.

A grass-roots stink was made, engineered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Go to DearAOL.com, the home page for the anti-Goodmail revolution, to get their side of it in their own words, but my summary is that the EFF argued that a financial interest in accreditation, and particularly one that had a per-message fee, gave AOL perverse incentives that would result in a degradation of quality in spam filtering.
There are almost 46,000 signers to their petition (although a large number of these signers have names like "buy vicodin online" and "parts corolla" and link to spam sites).

Once it made money on each certified message, AOL would have no incentive to maintain its whitelisting service. As a result, small senders of bulk mail, such as small nonprofits, would find their messages blocked and themselves pressured to pony up money to Goodmail and AOL.

I always thought it was a specious argument. AOL insisted that the revenue cut from Goodmail was bound to be puny and that it was supporting Goodmail not for the direct monies but to decrease its false positives with big commercial senders. This made, and continues to make, sense to me.

Matt Hines chats with VeriSign Director of Product Marketing Tim Callan about the companys new Extended Validation digital certificates and how they aim to help businesses and end users fight phishing and online fraud. Click here to listen to the podcast.

So whats happened over the last year? If its really nine months since AOLs been sending out CertifiedEmail, then we should have seen something by now. I decided to ask the major players for their impressions and was surprised that nobody was all that anxious to talk. AOL and Goodmail, it seems, dont want an annual round of controversy. All AOL would say is that its on target, whatever that means, and that the process by which senders get themselves on the whitelist has gotten simpler, not more difficult.

The requirements are interesting, in that they force the sender to think about both policy and technical considerations, but it all looks doable for all but very small senders ("An organizations mail servers must send a minimum of 100 e-mails per month to maintain whitelist status"). Theres actually a large overlap between AOLs rules and the rules set by Goodmail in its Acceptable Use and Security Policy (here in PDF form).

I asked Goodmail, and it didnt have much to say either, besides its claim that it has "just over 300 sending brands using CertifiedEmail—this in just about half a year of availability." Incidentally, it also claims to have gone live on Yahoo Mail in December. This is where things got a little confusing.

First, Goodmail says that it "went live ... in December at Yahoo," but Yahoo tells me that "we recently started testing a CertifiedEmail system which includes transactional e-mails from trusted institutions." A small exaggeration perhaps, beefing up a test into a deployment.

Next page: How much Goodmail is going on?


 
 
 
 
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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