Tuesday, February 28, 2006

AOL Admits Defeat in War on Spam

STOP AOL's Email Tax
Today, an unlikely coalition of more than 50 groups, representing some 15 million people, launched a campaign to fight AOL's new pay-to-send email scheme.

In addition to Free Press and Electronic Frontier Foundation, coalition members include Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, MoveOn.org, Gun Owners of America, the Association of Cancer Online Resources, the Humane Society, the AFL-CIO, RightMarch and others.

Cumulatively, these groups count more than 3 million AOL subscribers as members, or in excess of 15 percent of AOL's customer base.

While the organizations occupy almost every corner of the political landscape, we're united in opposition to AOL's plan to make large group e-mailers pay to bypass the email service's Swiss cheese spam filters and get guaranteed delivery to the inboxes of AOL customers.

AOL's Spam on Spam

AOL's pay-to-send plan is the latest media snake-oil scheme, designed to give users the impression of improved service while serving no one but the company’s bottom line.

In fact, the AOL pay-to-send plan could make spam worse. As AOL turns its attention to revenue generating email it has a cash inducement to let its free-to-send service grow increasingly unreliable.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham presents his company's new regime as a boon to end-users, stating -- misleadingly -- that a certification system will protect user inboxes from spam. This isn't true. AOL subscribers will receive certified email in addition to the regular traffic that clutters most inboxes.

"We continue to provide exceptional service to all email senders who conform to our antispam guidelines," Graham writes in a rebuttal to our campaign. "In fact, CertifiedEmail serves as a valuable, new standard and threshold for the delivery of legitimate email that will serve as a guidepost for other email senders to follow and adhere to."

Nice try, Nicholas. AOL hasn't solved the spam problem at all; they've merely created a second tier for delivery, one favoring those who can afford to pay AOL's express rate. The other tier -- which has been increasingly compromised by AOL's inability to distinguish honest email from spam -- will remain in place. It may get worse, even, as AOL tries to "incentivise" more users to move from the free lane to their toll road.

The Façade of Good Intentions

You would think that AOL could better spend its time and energy improving the existing spam filters. Apparently not.

According to Andrew Lochart of the email service provider Postini, AOL's effort "badly misses the mark" because it will lead to more spam in user inboxes. "It guarantees delivery of paid-for bulk email based on the sender paying, not based on users' preferences," Lochart told Red Herring. "In other words, it will allow more, not less, unwanted email through to users."

David Hughes, chief executive officer of email security company Reflexion Network Solutions, said AOL's proposal "violates the democratic principles of the Internet and many people will see this as a transparent attempt to develop a new revenue stream despite the company's façade of good intentions."

In truth, AOL is attempting to profit from its own incompetence. By adopting the pay-to-send plan, AOL is declaring defeat in the war against spam. But instead of waving a white flag, AOL has asked legitimate senders to pay for its failure by buying an easy pass to users' in-boxes.

Where's the benefit in that?

But that's just the half of it.

Your tax dollars at work
As I mentioned earlier today, AOL's email tax is one salvo in a two-pronged assault on a free and open Internet. On the one hand, we have large cable and telephone companies that are now seeking to become the gatekeepers to Internet content and services. (for more on this visit NetFreedomNow.org). On this front we have large email providers that want to turn email communications into a privileged realm for those who can afford to pay a corporate tax.

These are the first steps onto a slippery slope that could dismantle the net freedoms that Americans have come to know. These types of corporate schemes discriminate against those of us who use the Internet to spread new ideas and spark innovation and dissent.

Reversing the Revolution

The Internet has evolved to be the most democratic medium in the history of communications – more accessible even than Gutenberg’s press. At its core is its ability to level the playing field for all comers.

The brilliance of this end-to-end network is that the intelligence resides at the edge of the network; the wires in between simply pass information between individual users. Those who run the network’s only job is to move data — not to stifle user innovation by selecting which users to privilege with higher speeds and "guaranteed" delivery.

If corporations like AOL get their way today, they’ll stifle the spread of independent ideas that we've come to expect online and shift the digital revolution into reverse.


RADdams said...

What an odd coalition of members! When was the last time the Gun Owners of America were on the same page as the Humane Society? Predicting this alliance would be like predicting the fall of communism during the Berlin Airlift. I digress.

Tim, once again excellent work! The one thing that remains unclear is what have the buttoned down lips in the current White House administration promised to the likes of Time Warner, Comcast and Verizon in back-end tax credits for the scheme to privatize the internet? Seriously. My hunch is that part of Ted Turner’s recent resignation from the Board of Directors of Time Warner (even though he is still their largest single shareholder) had as much to do with the human filth he was associated with as it did with the blow to his ego of being left sitting on the bench while the company spiraled downward and he watched his wealth vaporize. With Ted out of the rats den, he may shed some light on the inner workings and wink-wink deals that are being made to boost the bottom line profits of these sorry behemoths. Hey, if the hugely profitable Oil and Gas/Energy Industry can lobby successfully for $10,000,000,000 in tax credits, what’s to stop these guys from suckling in the US Taxpayers’ hand-outs?

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