• United States

‘Certified e-mail’ plans draw mixed reactions

Feb 13, 20064 mins
MalwareMessaging AppsNetworking

While the giant e-mail providers battle against spammers and Internet scammers, stealth-mode start-ups and other small vendors are gearing up, hoping to ignite the newest fight against malicious use of e-mail and the Internet.

Last week, AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo became flashpoints in the spam, blacklisting and online reputation debates. Yahoo and AOL said in the next few months they would begin offering legitimate bulk e-mail senders the option of paying to certify delivery of e-mail to users.

In the United Kingdom, a number of retail companies accused Microsoft of unfairly blacklisting them and cutting them off from Hotmail users. And Google raised eyebrows in giving BMW the “Google death sentence” by dropping the carmaker’s search rating to zero after BMW spiked its Web site to manipulate search results.

The issues all shed light on the fact that the Internet continues to be a rough place to do business. The problem is no more apparent than with e-mail, where spammers have been winning a cat-and-mouse game.

In an effort to restore confidence, companies such as certification vendor Goodmail Systems and a stealth start-up working behind the Web address are planning to introduce authorization, accreditation and reputation systems that may help cleanse in-boxes and push the cost of spam onto spammers.

AOL and Yahoo, which will become Goodmail’s first active customers, view their services as being in that vein.

Last week, however, critics said the services would not help curb spam, while others accused AOL and Yahoo of taxing legitimate e-mail senders.

“This is not a spam-reduction measure,” says Andrew Lochart, senior director of marketing for anti-spam vendor Postini. “It is a way for a legitimate merchant to avoid getting a false positive in an AOL spam filter.”

AOL agrees with that general assessment and says the certified mail service is but one delivery option, in addition to AOL’s free whitelist service and plain old Internet e-mail service.

“We heard from our senders that they wanted other delivery options,” says Nicholas Graham, an AOL spokesman, who emphasized the service is optional.

DMA signals support

The Direct Marketing Association, which has nearly 5,000 members, including 55 Fortune 100 companies, classified the AOL service as a complement to regular e-mail delivery, and advises members to consider it for certain campaigns, such as delivering Web links, which AOL normally blocks.

The AOL and Yahoo services are exposing new attempts to clean up e-mail using techniques around authenticating senders via such technologies as SenderID or Yahoo’s DomainKeys, and by establishing online reputations and accrediting legitimate businesses.

Goodmail uses a system of background and credit checks to establish a “legal path of accountability” for its potential customers. It limits e-mail delivery to opt-in recipients, and monitors complaints against its customers to establish their online reputation.

Meng Weng Wong, CTO of the start-up, also is attacking the problem but believes the answer is an open reputation exchange.

Wong previously developed the Sender Policy Framework, which eventually merged with Microsoft’s CallerID to create SenderID, a system designed to verify the domain of e-mail senders. SenderID has been invaded by spammers, but Wong is developing what he says are the other pieces of the puzzle.

“I am working on building an open reputation network that makes it very easy for people in the reputation and accreditation industry to share or sell their data,” Wong says.

“We need to get back to a world where I can e-mail a stranger and they can e-mail me and the mail gets through, and where I don’t have to pay for that,” he says. “We have to get back to the good old days. We can do that with authentication, reputation and accreditation.”