Leaving AOL further out on a limb holding its Goodmail playbook, Google said it will not be instituting a payment system to ensure email delivery to Gmail users. The power of email filtering, said the company, should rest in the hands of its users.
Until now, Google had been very quiet about AOL’s controversial plan to implement Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail system, one that would require approved bulk mailers to pay a small fee per email in order to ensure delivery to member inboxes.
After Yahoo! made a separate announcement about the use of Goodmail, many had feared a domino effect in the industry that would cost bulk mailers millions of dollars per year. The fear that Google would follow suit stemmed largely from the presence of Google Vice President Jonathan Rosenberg on Goodmail’s list of strategic advisors.
But in a statement to WebProNews, Google Corporate Communications’ Eileen Rodriguez said there were no plans to implement any such payment process.
“Gmail does not accept payment to bypass its filters, nor are there plans to charge senders to reach Gmail users,” said Rodriguez.
Adam Green of MoveOn.org, one AOL’s harshest critics, believes Gmail’s announcement to be illustrative of email service providers (ESP) increasing reluctance to be lumped in with the AOL pay-to-send scheme.
“And now, AOL is increasingly looking as the black sheep of the industry as places like Google decide to distance themselves and state for the first time on the record they have no plans to implement Goodmail or a pay-to-send system that bypasses their spam filters,” said Green.
“Today, Google set the dominoes in motion as AOL becomes a completely isolated and tainted actor in the industry.”
Indeed it does appear that way, as even Yahoo! Postmaster Miles Libby has been very pointed in delineating the difference between AOL’s and Yahoo!’s arrangement with Goodmail.
Libby in DM News:
"The first major difference is that we are designating it for transactional e-mails only. This avoids a lot of the, 'All e-mails need to be spam' kind of concerns."
Rodriguez gave the impression that Gmail’s current spam detection system was an adequate defense for its users.
“Gmail has a superior spam detection system that gives users ultimate control over the messages that are filtered into their spam folders,” she said.
The concept that inboxes should be more user-controlled as a part of larger net-neutrality argument is echoed by David Hughes, chief executive officer of Reflexion Network Solutions, a Massachusetts-based anti-spam solutions provider.
“I’m glad to hear them say that (referring to giving users ultimate control),” he said. “Email is a very personal thing. (AOL) should have understood this very personal, democratic, egalitarian aspect. And I think that’s where they blew it. Power should be in the hands of users.”
But proponents of the proposed Goodmail implementation call the free and open access philosophy (to which Google seems to ascribe) naïve. Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0 for CNet Networks thinks a world without Goodmail is unrealistic:
"It's idealistic and unrealistic in a world where there are bad people; you need to spend money to protect yourself. At the moment, the costs have to be borne by the recipient. Really you want to charge through third parties [such as Goodmail] who can work together with ISP,” said Dyson.
"People who are anti-Goodmail say, 'Let's have an intelligent design for anti-spam systems'," she says. "I believe in evolution: there will be a lot of different attempts, and some will work and some won't, and the best will thrive."
And Google does seem to agree, though it appears they won’t be using outside fee-based services, that authentication is a good thing while also acknowledging that Goodmail is not the only option.
“Authenticating email so people are assured of the sender's identity is a good practice that Google supports, and there are several existing techniques,” said Rodriguez.
But it is Dyson’s corporate Darwinist email philosophy that critics, like Hughes, oppose. Saying that AOL’s plan was “dead on arrival,” Hughes framed the AOL conflict as a classic battle of “the haves versus the have-nots.”
AOL’s proposed system not only takes the power out of the hands of users, but also limits small and medium sized businesses’ ability to get their messages to recipients.
Like Google, Hughes suggests that there are alternative means for email filtering that doesn’t financially restrict senders while disconnecting recipients from the filtering process.
“You would want something that was lightweight, that could be implemented without making huge changes. One includes the use of supplemental addresses. In this kind of an approach, you give the user the ability to define addresses on which to reach them.”
In addition to Reflexion’s own proprietary system, Hughes suggested the use of ESP options already in place that use “disposable” addresses like Yahoo!’s Address Guard or Gmail’s Plus-addressing.
“These are techniques that have been around for a while but haven’t been used in the corporate world. People are already doing this but it hasn’t been systemized,” he said.
And suddenly, there is confirmation from the AOL camp as well, that there are, indeed, alternatives to CertifiedEmail, and that there is more than one way to address the issue. After reiterating AOL’s commitment to combating spam and phishing, spokesman Nicholas Graham expanded the arsenal of weapons.
“It takes many weapons and defenses to tackle the spam and phishing problem; only a strong, comprehensive approach works in delivering results for our members.
"Email authentication tools - including Sender ID, and DKIM and Certified Email - are an absolutely integral part of this robust approach and to our ongoing efforts...a view shared by many ISP and ESP leaders in the marketplace,” he said.
Graham told WebProNews last week that CertifiedEmail had not yet been implemented and it was unclear as to when it would be put in place. After last week’s debacle with MoveOn.org, Hughes thinks its time for AOL to cut their losses.
“If this scenario was truly accidental, then AOL needs to look at this as a star-crossed sign that they need to abandon this plan,” he said.