• United States
News Editor

“E-mail tax?” … EFF off the mark

Feb 28, 20063 mins
Enterprise Applications

Any time both liberal and conservative political activists are aligned against big business on a particular issue, you can be pretty gosh-darn sure the protesters have a legitimate beef.

Except when they don’t.

Such is the case with a gathering crusade against plans by AOL and Yahoo to offer Goodmail’s fee-based CertifiedEmail, a premium delivery service designed to help legitimate bulk senders get their messages through to their intended targets.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, and will be front and center today trumpeting a diverse coalition of political and business groups the organizers say are intent on getting AOL and Yahoo to abandon their plans. You can read all of the loopy scare-mongering at MoveOn’s Web site under the ludicrous headline: “Stop AOL’s E-mail Tax.”

While EFF and MoveOn do good work, generally speaking, it’s difficult to overstate how far off the mark they are on this one. What AOL and Yahoo are proposing is no more of an “e-mail tax” than HBO is a “cable tax.”

Paul Hoffman, director of the VPN Consortium, has been one of my go-to guys on e-mail and spam issues for just about 10 years now. And he minces no words in assessing this protest.

“The EFF has lost its mind,” he says.

Of those who object to premium e-mail services, he adds: “Of course, they object; they don’t want anything to cost them any money. Well, neither do the people who send spam.”

If your company or organization isn’t interested in the premium service, then you don’t pay a nickel; AOL and Yahoo insist that you’ll get the exact same service you get from them today. And if that proves not to be the case, well, the only losers there will be AOL and Yahoo.

“It is rope that AOL or Yahoo can hang themselves with,” Hoffman says, “but who cares.”

And it’s not that Hoffman believes AOL and Yahoo are on to something terribly useful here. Far from it.

“We have known for at least five years that mailing lists will become less and less stable ways of letting people who want particular information (political, commercial, or whatever) get it reliably. AOL has had multiple levels of ‘known goodness’ for mailing lists for years; Goodmail’s scheme is nothing new or interesting.”

“The degradation of mailing list deliverability was the motivation for many of us to work on Atom in the IETF. Syndication feeds are not susceptible to spam, and they can be read by anyone, even those who don’t have feed readers. The fact that neither MoveOn or RightMarch has a syndication feed is probably just a temporary mistake on their part, and they will soon discover that their feeds are much more effective than their mailing lists.”

Let’s assume their silly protest is also a temporary mistake.

News Editor

In addition to my editing duties, I have written Buzzblog since January, 2006 and wrote the 'Net Buzz column in Network World's dearly departed print edition for 13 years. Feel free to e-mail me at