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The End of Free E-Mail?

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  • The End of Free E-Mail?

    Threatening to turn urban legends of the late '90s into troublingly accurate omens, AOL is implementing a "Certified E-Mail" program that basically allows mass marketers to bypass spam filters and get preferential display in customers' inboxes by paying a per-message fee. But what sounds at first like a way to make spammers pay is making others worry that the move will eventually start the Internet -- long heralded as an equalizer in the world of free speech, communication, and interaction -- down the road toward unequal access.

    Notes the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
    Email readers and senders will both lose, because the incentives for Yahoo, AOL, and Goodmail are all wrong. Their service is only valuable if it "saves" you from their spam filters. In turn, they have an incentive to treat more of your email as spam, thereby encouraging people to sign up. Even email senders who just want to reach may eventually be in trouble. Once a pay-to-speak system like this gets going, it will be increasingly difficult for people who don't pay to get their mail through. The system has no way to distinguish between ordinary mail and bulk mail, spam and non-spam, personal and commercial mail. It just gives preference to people who pay.
    The founder of one of the first mailing list software vendors is also worried:
    A per-message fee will eliminate non-commercial email traffic, such as the hundreds of thousands of discussion lists that serve as online communities for millions of people – for example, lists connecting people who are struggling with cancer, coping with parenting special-needs children, or simply wishing to exchange tips about their favorite breed of dog. You end up with a situation where, if your non-commercial newsletter is successful, it is driven out of business by the Goodmail fee, and you have to turn it into a commercial venture just to survive., a liberal activist group that owes its survival and success to the Internet, obviously has strong feelings on the matter, and has (of course) established an online petition:
    If AOL has its way, the big loser will be regular email users—whose email from friends, family, and favorite causes will increasingly go undelivered and disappear into the black hole of a neglected spam filter. Another loser will be democracy and economic innovation on the Internet—where small ideas become big ideas specifically because regular people can spread ideas freely on a level playing field.
    From the beautiful simplicity of e-mail to the debate over broadband access and media distribution (a.k.a. net neutrality), there's a lot to worry about. The Internet has changed the world quite a bit, but really that revolution is only just beginning. I fear its greatest promise might never be seen if steps are taken to fully control or commercialize it.

  • #2
    Re: The End of Free E-Mail?

    Um, not everyone uses AOL *LOL*
    How'd I get so white and nerdy?


    • #3
      Re: The End of Free E-Mail?

      Not everyone uses Google, either, but when you're the 800-lb. gorilla in any given space, what you do has a way of becoming an "industry standard." Decisions made by large companies obviously affect plenty of people who are not customers or connected in any direct way to them.

      As noted in the L-Soft piece:
      "The fundamental flaw in AOL's new certification plan is that there is only one technology supplier. Coupled with AOL's dominance in the marketplace, this creates a de facto monopoly."


      • #4
        Re: The End of Free E-Mail?

        Yes, this is a flawed model and it could be troubling, but AOL is a business and I think it should do whatever it thinks will make it some money. I am quite sure this is a disastrous idea strictly from a capitalist view. It is worth paying attention to, but in the long run, I don't think it could possibly go anywhere good for AOL.
        But I'm disturbed! I'm depressed! I'm inadequate! I GOT IT ALL! (George Costanza)


        • #5
          Re: The End of Free E-Mail?

          Phrase it as a question, Scriv!