February 16, 2006


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Techie: Will you stamp your e-mail?
Pennies per e-mail could stop spammers but cost you
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

You may have heard something recently about Yahoo! and AOL charging for e-mail.
They’re conducting tests through a company called GoodMail, which certifies e-mails as being sent from the source they claim. There’s good news and bad news about that.

How does it work?
Companies sending commercial e-mail, like weekly newsletters or notifications of sales that customers have requested, will have the option to spend a small amount per recipient, anywhere from a tenth of a cent to a full cent. That premium will attach an extra bit of data to each e-mail — a stamp of approval, essentially.

Will it cut down on spam?
Not directly, no. GoodMail takes an e-mail’s headers — roughly equivalent to the postmark on snail mail — and validates them. Yahoo! and AOL plan to use this validation to deliver mail directly to your inbox without putting it through the normal spam filters.

If you’re thinking that will actually increase the amount of mail you get, you’re right. What it will allow Yahoo! and AOL to do is tighten their filters so that messages given the benefit of the doubt before, because they could be legitimate commercial e-mails, will be marked as spam. They won’t admit this, of course, because that makes it sound like they’re extorting money for guaranteed bypassing of spam filters. But there’s really no other way for it to work.

Can’t spammers just pay the penny per e-mail?
Theoretically, sure, but a typical spam message will go out to millions of people. Spam is effective because only one or two people have to respond to make it profitable. Charge a spammer $10,000 and he might think about targeting his message more effectively.

GoodMail also restricts its service to companies who’ve been in business for a while and have a verifiable record of decent etiquette. And yes, certainly we can trust one corporation to judge the behavior of others. Why are you rolling your eyes?

Will I have to pay to receive e-mail?
Nope. Only senders have to pay.

Will I have to pay to send e-mail?
No. At least, as Alberto Gonzales would say, not in the program currently under discussion. Even companies sending large amounts of e-mail won’t be forced to pay. It’s a value proposition for them: pay the extra money and more people will likely see the message. Unless you have a habit of mentioning Viagra or Nigeria in messages you send to thousands of your friends, you needn’t worry about getting filtered.

...Yet. As I said before, e-mail providers will probably start tightening their filters if this experiment works out. And once one class of users demonstrates that they’re willing to pay a fee per e-mail sent, it could be only a matter of time before that requirement seeps down to lowly you and me.

Still. Cheaper than a stamp, right?

 Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
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