March 01, 2006
AOL moving forward with pay-for-email plan

I noted the concept of certified email awhile back as a spamfighting tool. AOL appears to be heading in that direction, and it's causing some heartburn among various advocacy groups.

"The creativity and ingenuity that have driven the Internet have always relied on an open platform where the haves and have-nots get treated equally," said Eli Pariser, executive director of Civic Action. "This e-mail tax system is a big step toward dismantling that system."

The alliance protesting the move includes liberal activist group MoveOn, the U.S. Humane Society, labor and environmental groups and online medical communities. It also encompasses conservative political groups that rely heavily on e-mail lists, MoveOn spokesman Trevor Fitzgibbon said.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham replied: "No matter what the political rhetoric is, AOL will remain resolute in our pursuit of improving e-mail safety and security in doing what is right for our members. That simply is not going to change.

"There is no substantive news here, just because some disparate groups of advocates have come together for an event reminiscent of the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie."

Gilles Frydman of the Association of Cancer Online Resources said bulk e-mail charges will cause problems for organizations like hers.

"We cannot pay for the service. We don't have the money," Frydman said.

"We have been doing this for 11 years based on the standards of Internet communication. Those standards do not include paying for service. This one company is trying to transform unilaterally how the Internet works."

Frydman said some patients with rare forms of cancer may have trouble receiving updated information on a timely basis.

I'm not sure that comparing cancer patients to freaky aliens is a good public relations move. I think there's merit in the concept of shifting the economic burden of bulk email towards the sender, but there's also certainly room for flexibility. I see no reason why AOL (or Yahoo, which is also considering this) can't carve out exceptions for nonprofits and other noncommercial groups. For the most part, they're not the big senders, anyway. There's a site called DearAOL that's trying to convice AOL of that. I hope some kind of accomodation can be reached, because it won't be pretty otherwise.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 01, 2006 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

The problem I have with it is somewhat different from the complaints I've seen from MoveOn et al.

As I understand it, the nonprofits' concern is a classic "slippery slope:" with this fee in place, AOL will have no incentive to distinguish between unwanted bulk email (spam) and wanted bulk email (MoveOn et al.), and is likely to tighten their spam filters until no bulk mailer can access AOL subscribers without paying the fee.

A special, low fee for non-profits would help, but as a private company, AOL is under no obligation to grant one, unless the Feds regulate them - HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

(wipes tears) Whew - Feds regulate them - I crack myself up!

That's a legitimate concern, but it's at least a year or so off. The more immediate complaint is that AOL subscribers will no longer be able to block spam from anyone willing to pay AOL's fees. And giving non-profits a break won't help with that problem. AOL has just saddled their subscribers with inferior email service for a quick buck.

And this from one of the most expensive ISPs in America. AOL can go Cheney themselves as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 2, 2006 5:28 PM