Two of the Internet’s largest email providers, America Online and Yahoo!, have announced that they will begin implementing Goodmail Systems’ CertifiedEmail program in an attempt to lower spam sent to their users. The program works similar to regular mail postage. Email senders will pay a fee, anywhere from 1/4 cent to 1 cent per message. Each message will then be digitally “stamped." This stamp will allow messages to bypass all AOL and Yahoo! junk filtering and email security rules, thus ensuring that the message will appear in the user’s inbox—images and links intact. Email senders that do not pay, or cannot afford to pay this per message fee, receive no guarantee that their messages will be delivered to users— filters will filter and the message could be flagged as spam. This strategy in essence becomes an email tax policy, can lead to a monopoly over email deliverability, and will severely affect small businesses.
Furthermore AOL announced that it would no longer be offering their current free enhanced whitelist option, which basically allows the same benefits as the new CertifiedEmail “stamp.” It appears that the overwhelming backlash against this announcement has caused a change in policy. It was announced today that the Enhanced whitelist options will still be made available. With that said however, there seems to be a major disincentive for AOL, or any other company, who stands to make a fee per message to actively maintain whitelists, and to fine tune filtering algorithms so that valid emails are delivered the users.
This stamping requirement may be deemed more like profiteering than a means to protect users. It comes at a time when domestic spam volume is dropping (primarily due to legislation). Technology can also play a role to help further decreases. Frameworks such as SPF, SenderID and DomainKeys (ironically supported strongly by Yahoo!) have been established to help stop phishing attempts, virus distributions and other forms of spam. Adoption, however, has been slow, but that’s because there has been no mandate. Adoption would be almost universal if AOL and Yahoo! announced that they required the frameworks to be used by email senders… but instead they opted to go with a pay-per-message postage alternative.
This “postage” charge will hit small businesses the hardest. It will make email as a marketing medium less accessible to small businesses. The per-message fee adds up quickly, and can exponentially increase the costs of staying in touch with clients and prospects. The Internet is the great equalizer for small businesses because they can partake in enterprise marketing activities on a smaller scale. Imposing a per-message fee will create a competitive advantage to companies that can afford to pay the fee. Chances are that these companies will not be small businesses or non-profit agencies—currently two major players in the online economy.
In the end, email users will also pay the price when order confirmations, important emails go missing—but not for long. When the user doesn’t receive these messages, the sending will be blamed. The sender will in turn point the finger at the ISP. If messages are lost too frequently then the user may switch to another provider. To date Google’s GMAIL.com service and Microsoft’s HOTMAIL.com have not decided to follow suite with CertifiedEmail. If they don’t, then they may see a spike in transfer users. If they do, then they have helped create a Goodmail pay-per-message email tax monopoly, which will be even more devastating for small businesses.
Dan Forootan is the President of SmartBiz.