Youll find no better example of political demagoguery than the coalition formed to oppose Goodmail and AOLs use of Goodmails services.
The Web site announcing their positions is so overflowing with misinformation and presumption that its hard to know where to start in addressing it.
The site is filled with cheap, pejorative terms like “email tax.” But if theres one most prominent false claim or presumption made by the coalition it is that AOLs acceptance of certified e-mail without further spam checks means that the service provided to non-certified mail will degrade. This claim is explicit and implicit all over the site.
There is no basis for this claim. Let me repeat that: They are making it up, and they have no legitimate reason to claim it.
Using logic void of any business sense, the coalition asserts that once the Goodmail system is in place, AOL will have no incentive to maintain its existing anti-spam measures.
Note, as the coalition does not, that AOL has vigorously denied that they are backing off of their existing measures, including the standard and enhanced whitelists, in any way.
AOL also claims that the revenue that they get from the certified e-mail program will be trivial.
But the coalition, dominated by groups which are anxious to assume the worst of any big business, figures that AOL will let the anti-spam quality of non-certified mail go to pot to blackmail senders into paying off Goodmail.
“Poor delivery of mail turns from being a problem that AOL has every incentive to fix to something that could actually make them money if the company ignores it.”
Theres no reason why AOL would need or want to degrade their standard services. Goodmail is something like the post office offering premium services like guaranteed delivery and registered mail.
The coalition asserts the analogy is a false one; but theyre wrong—its a perfect analogy. There is more work involved in guaranteed delivery than in standard delivery and its more valuable so it makes sense to charge more for it. The fact of its existence hasnt led the post office to degrade the quality of first class mail.
The claims made about how AOL would treat non-certified e-mail are often difficult to follow. By claiming that AOL wont maintain their spam filters they imply that spam will suddenly flood into AOL users inboxes.
They also claim that legitimate, but non-certified, e-mail will not necessarily be delivered: “Everyone who cant afford to pay AOLs email tax—including charities, small businesses, civic organizations and even families with mailing lists—will have no guarantee that their e-mails will be delivered.”
Why Would AOL Abuse
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.
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?
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.
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