THE NEWS BLOG

 
Steve and Jen bring you this daily review of the news
Premium Advertiser

News Blog Sponsors

News Links

BBC World Service
The Guardian
Independent
Washington Post
Newsday
Iraq Order of Battle
Agonist
NY Times
LA Times
ABC News
CNN
Blogger

 
Blogs We Like

Daily Kos
Atrios
Digby's Blog
Skippy
Operation Yellow Elephant
Iraq Casualty Count
Uggabugga
Media Matters
Talking Points
Defense Tech
Intel Dump
Soldiers for the Truth
Margaret Cho
Juan Cole
Tbogg
Corrente
Gropinator
Just a Bump in the Beltway
Baghdad Burning
Wonkette
Howard Stern
Michael Moore
James Wolcott
Cooking for Engineers
There is No Crisis
Whiskey Bar
Rude Pundit
Driftglass
At-Largely
Crooks and Liars
Amazin' Avenue
DC Media Girl
The Server Logs

 
Blogger Credits

Powered by Blogger

Archives by
Publication Date
August 2003
September 2003
October 2003
November 2003
December 2003
January 2004
February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
Comments Credits
Comments by YACCS
Friday, February 10, 2006

The e-mail tax


As bright as this is safe

AOL, Yahoo and Goodmail: Taxing Your Email for Fun and Profit
February 08, 2006

Remember the famous email rumor that made the rounds in the 1990s: "Congress is trying to tax your Internet connection, write in now!"

Well what wasn't true in the 1990s is apparently coming true in 2006, only the beneficiaries won't be Uncle Sam -- it will be Yahoo, AOL, and a company ironically called Goodmail. Yahoo and AOL have announced that they will guarantee access to your email inbox for email senders who pay $.0025 per message. They will override their own spam filters and webbug-strippers, and deliver the mail directly with a "certified" notice. In the process, they will treat more of your email as spam, and email you're expecting won't be delivered.

The justification is that if people have to pay to send email, they won't send junk email. Apparently AOL and Yahoo believe that if we "tax" speech then only desirable speech happens. We all know how well that works for postal mail -- that's why no one gets any "free" AOL starter disks, right?

More seriously, as we discuss below, this isn't really an anti-spam measure as much as a "pay to speak" email measure, and it won't end spam or phishing. Prominent anti-spammer Richard Cox of Spamhaus agrees: "an e-mail charge will destroy the spirit of the Internet."

Email being basically free isn't a bug. It's a feature that has driven the digital revolution. It allows groups to scale up from a dozen friends to a hundred people who love knitting to half-a-million concerned citizens without a major bankroll.

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, and thereby "encouraging" people to sign up.

Even email senders who just want to reach Dad@aol.com 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.

And prepare to be shaken down if you run a noncommercial mailing list, whether for local bowling leagues or political organizations with a national membership. Not only will the per-message fees quickly add up, but the Goodmail technology will also be costly for senders to setup and use. Goodmail's giving a "special offer" for nonprofits through 2006, but when that ends their messages will presumably end up in the trash, too.

If email senders bear a burden, who gains? Not Yahoo and AOL customers, whose email boxes are being sold off. It will presumably be harder for even desired email to reach them.

In return, customers probably will now get not one but two helpings of spam. For only $.0025 cent per message, Yahoo and AOL will guarantee delivery of this extra-special "certified" paid-placement mail, served alongside your ordinary spam. They'll also preserve webbugs, little privacy invaders that report back when you look at the email. Goodmail says that it will ensure that the messages aren't spam, but it's not clear how they will enforce this. After all if a foolproof way for a third-party to distinguish wanted from unwanted messages existed, we would have solved the spam problem long ago.

What about phishing? Remember, the problem with phishing is that ordinary end users cannot always tell when a "certification" is real. Spoofing the appearance of Goodmail certification to end users should not be much of a problem, and all of the encryption in the world won't fix that.

Spam is a real problem demanding real solutions, but taxing the Internet, even if the tax is "voluntary" and even if the money goes to ISPs, isn't one of them. The best solution is to put more power in the hands of users to control spam filters and a robust market in those filters. Allowing ISPs to auction off access to email boxes and ransom free speech solves nothing.

EFF is working on an extended and more technical description of the problems with Goodmail, but this is a bad idea we think should be nipped in the bud. We urge AOL and Yahoo subscribers and those who communicate with them, to tell them that taxing email is not the right way to go.

posted by Steve @ 12:39:00 AM

12:39:00 AM

The News Blog home page





 

Editorial Staff
RSS-XML Feeds

Add to My AOL

Support The News Blog

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More
News Blog Food Blog
Visit the News Blog Food Blog
The News Blog Shops
 
 
 
Operation Yellow Elephant
Enlist, Young Republicans