February 7, 2006 7:30 AM PST

Antispam group rejects e-mail payment plan

A leading antispam agency has struck back at moves to charge companies a fixed fee to ensure e-mails are delivered, saying it will erode freedoms.

On Monday, Richard Cox, chief information officer at antispam organization Spamhaus, said that "an e-mail charge will destroy the spirit of the Internet."

"The Internet has become what it is because of freedom of communication. Open discussion is what gives it value. There should be no cost for particular services, and e-mail should be free and accessible to all. This will disenfranchise people," Cox said.

According to reports, Internet giants America Online and Yahoo are planning to charge companies up to one cent per e-mail to guarantee delivery.

Paid-for e-mails would not go through AOL spam filters, meaning businesses could send marketing e-mails directly to the potential customers' in-boxes, without the risk of the mails being sent to a junk-mail folder or having Web links and images stripped, according to an article in The New York Times.

This wouldn't be a license to spam AOL and Yahoo users, though, as any company that used the service would have to show that under antispam laws, they had the right to send the e-mails.

Cox said that charging for e-mail services was unlikely to reduce spam.

"It won't reduce spam directly. AOL is already good at managing spam issues, and Yahoo is getting better," Cox said. "It may make it easier to filter mail, and may provide more resources for spam prevention, but it could also mean that people lose e-mails and so change provider," he added.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the government organization in charge of enforcing antispam legislation in the U.K., cautiously welcomed AOL and Yahoo's move.

"If businesses are being charged, it will encourage them to keep their e-mail lists up-to-date. It could encourage greater compliance with (antispam) regulations, which is a good thing from our perspective," said Dave Evans, the senior guidance and promotion manager for the ICO.

"It may also discourage businesses from sending unsolicited e-mails, because if they have to pay, it will be more of a decision to make to send them. Businesses probably wouldn't want to pay for undelivered messages or e-mails that bounce back," Evans added.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
anti-spam, Spamhaus, America Online Inc., freedom, Yahoo! Inc.

17 comments

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Fastest path to fewer users
Hmm, sounds like Yahoo and AOL don't want customers. I see a
boon for Hotmail, Gmail, and any other free email provider once
Yahoo and AOL institute these policies.

Why would I use an email address that requires a list I've
SUBSCRIBED TO to pay to send me a message? This won't curb
spam at all. It's basically a racket, sounds like Yahoo and AOL
don't want to be in the email business anymore.

Adios.
Posted by (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well...
this comming from Spamhaus. The biggest bunch of arogant (block profanity) to walk the face of the earth.

You know charging a company a small fee per e-mail to verify that they are not spammers isn't any worse than blocking an entire IP address (which sucks really bad when you use a shared IP service) to block one spammer. Yeah, I know, blacklist writers don't actually block anything.

Personally I think blacklists are the worst thing they ever came up with to combat spam. It simply doesn't work (go ahead and disagree with my opinion, most people do).

I once read an interesting article about how IP blacklist don't work. I tried to find it before posting this comment, but I couldn't. However, if I can find it I will post it for all to read. I will just say it's not a technical paper or a study done by some university, just one mans views and research.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some links
Just getting some links to infromation I found about blacklist.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.jetcafe.org/dave/usenet/dheditorial6.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.jetcafe.org/dave/usenet/dheditorial6.html</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.dotcomeon.com/boston_collateral_damage.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.dotcomeon.com/boston_collateral_damage.html</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://paulgraham.com/spamhausblacklist.html" target="_newWindow">http://paulgraham.com/spamhausblacklist.html</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.circleid.com/posts/we_hate_spam_except_of_course_when_its_inconvenient_to_do_so/" target="_newWindow">http://www.circleid.com/posts/we_hate_spam_except_of_course_when_its_inconvenient_to_do_so/</a>

It is my opinion that Spamhaus is an abusive group who uses blacklist to force ISP or hosting companies into doing what they want.

"The Internet has become what it is because of freedom of communication. Open discussion is what gives it value. There should be no cost for particular services, and e-mail should be free and accessible to all. This will disenfranchise people," said Cox."

What does he think his services do. Open up the line of communication.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Email tax
Spamhaus has always been opposed to email "tax". One of their officers spoke to a UK Parliamentary Committee immediately after I'd just made a case for using email tax to defeat Spam. Their counter arguments were not strong or considered, but as a result the MP's didn't consider it further and there was no legislative follow up.
Spamhaus do an excellent job, but their approach is always a reactive follow up. It will never defeat Spam as they are always playing catch up.
The AntiSPAM software vendors have a vested interest in not supporting solutions, such as email tax, that will be an effective deterrent against bulk Spam. A pent/cent per message will be a low cost solution to the public, but it would destroy the financial incentive for Spammers. The funds raised could be used (by the UN?) to fund Internet Access to the IT underclass in Third World Countries.
Posted by Brockleybadger (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Email tax correction
"pent" = "penny"
Posted by Brockleybadger (10 comments )
Link Flag
Say no to bozo proposals
And the most bozo proposal out there would have to be yours.

The worst thing anyone can do is to give a govermental agency the right to tax something because once a tax is established it will never go away and the agency will find reasons to increase it ("to meet additional needs") etc.

The next worst thing you can do is give money to the U.N., you'd have to be deaf, dumb, blind and ignorant not to know by now that the U.N. is the most corrupt and inefficient of organizations in the world at handling money.

Your proposal falls flat on it's face for double-stupidity.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Read the article
It won't cost anyone, anything to send normal emails. You merely pay for expidited mail, that will never hit AOL's spam filters. You can still go do everything the old way, this is just an EZ-Pass system for bulk mailers.
Posted by schubb (202 comments )
Reply Link Flag
will be more aggressive
Except that it will allow them to more aggressively target the non-paying businesses.
Posted by BengalTigger (36 comments )
Link Flag
Pay To Send Emails
Few people know that AOL is already charging for emails being sent to their members. AOL will not admit to this but I know for a fact that once you pay their 'fee', they will guarantee delivery of your emails. This has been going on for at least a year that I know of. And email marketing companies gladly pay AOL since AOL is the most difficult ISP to send newsletters and marketing emails to.
Posted by idanoh (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Want to let them no you don't like it?
Try an vacation autoreply like this... you can activate it for 6 months at a time. Perhaps Yahoo will get the impression that abetting SPAM is not a good thing to do.

Here's the autoreply:

To Vendors emailing to this address:

This email address is no longer in use, due to a decision by Yahoo to allow SPAM to get through its filters for a fee. I may decide to occasionally use Yahoo in the future, after it renounces this appalling action. In any case, I will not patronize your company or any other vendor whose unsolicited email arrives in this account, if and when I do decide ever use it in the future.
Posted by phosdick (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is an attempt at increasing revenues...
There are several things wrong with the concept of an e-mail payment plan.

First, all it does do is allow a company to buy their way around AOL or Yahoo!s spam filters.

Second, it will increase the amount of SPAM that a customer will effectively see. Note that SPAM is more than just ***** pill pushers and con-artists.

Third, it will make it harder for AOL or Yahoo! to effectively fight SPAM. A company can claim that they had a pre-existing relationship, while the user will claim otherwise in their complaint. (Whom do you think will win out?)

Fourth. This opens the doorway to "legitimate" companies that purchased lists of e-mail addresses from other companies that one gave permission to use. (Ever read the fine print on those websites that you frequent? You may want to get e-mail from AMEX, but do you really want them to sell it to one of their partners?)

Why are Yahoo! and AOL doing this? Simple. They need to increase revenues to please Wall St. and their shareholders.

It truly is a bad idea and will probably alienate their users.
Posted by dargon19888 (412 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why AOL and Yahoo are doing this
The business model of AOL (in particular) and Yahoo (to a somewhat lesser extent) revolve around online advertising revenue. Many have surmised that one of the key reasons that AOL historically has been so aggressive about going after spammers is that, quite honestly, spam competes with AOL's own advertisers and thus potentially cuts into AOL's own revenue.

The fact that AOL is allowing "paid spam" to bypass filtering reinforces the impression that what these companies are interested in, above all, is not losing their own advertising revenue. Charging "approved spammers" a fee is a way to offset the revenue that they may lose from their other advertising channels. Don't get fooled for a minute that they are really trying to do their users any big favors.

I predicted years ago the increasing "televisionisation" of the internet, and this is just the latest sad chapter. I was heartened to hear that Spamhaus has come out in opposition to the practice, as have so many other long-time internet users.
Posted by pjk0 (1198 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yahoo, Geocities and spam ...
If Yahoo wanted to do anything against spam, they's start by blocking the countless redirection sites they host on their 'Geocities' service ...

That would be a good start.
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AOL may be blocking good email
I have written several times to an AOL user I know, and have seen no indication that my email was received. Has this happened to others? Some bubble-headed spam blockers working for Windblows may be blocking email from programs other than Outlook and Outlook Express, such as Mozilla mail.

There's already anti-spam law on the books, but there hasn't been a significant reduction in spam since a couple of major spammers were busted about 2 or 3 years ago in January. After a month, the spam volume was back up to normal and has stayed there. At least in the US, enforcement of anti-spam law is pathetic.

The glut of spam is the big reason why email delivery is an issue.
Posted by RavingEniac (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The merits of charging for e/mail
First, if we look closely at the proposed Yahoo and AOL charging policy, it won't effect mail sent outside of their communities - you can sort mail using whatever technology you choose. Unfortunately, this means that either your ISP must pre-sort your mail, a thought that is unacceptable to me, or you must accept at least header data from all incoming mail and sort it on your workstation - a bandwidth intensive process that may be hard to support in some environments.

Lets think about SPAM using the model of the Post Office - specificially correspondence between you and your bank. They send you first class mail - bank statements - that are likely to be read (or at least filed) assuming you haven't gone all electronic. They also send you "junk" mail - credit card offers, credit insurance and the like - that are not specifically requested and are read by a much smaller portion of their correspondents. These correspond to "opt-in" mailing lists.

Neither of these cases are spam. If you purchase an airline ticket and get a subsequent vacation offer from a travel company - it isn't spam - it would correspond to third class mail and is legal under present post office -- and internet -- rules.

SPAM is completely unwanted crap - the sender may have hidden their return address, have fradulant contents, or just plain crap - empty text or nonsense text. Even an add for a weight loss drug that is sent to many people who would never order it isn't spam - it might just as well have been sent by the post office as bulk mail.

How does this relate to charging?

Suppose we charged EVERYONE for e/mail? If the cost were non-zero, most of the empty trash would go away since the sender just wouldn't pay real money to send pure junk that had no hope of earning any income. How many empty envelopes do you get each month?

Charging everyone just isn't within the spirit of Internet and would be a large cost to society. Suppose we charged everyone who originated more than 1,000 messages per day? Would it stop you from anything you do? Now, suppose we charge only a small "bulk mail" fee to everyone who wanted to send over 1,000 messages per day (for example)?

If the fee is small enough and some way can be found to administer it so it is uniformly charged, I believe e/mails who want my business will accept it as a fair cost of doing business - in return for some hope on their part that fewer of us will automatically trash any incoming e/mail that isn't from a known correspondent.

I believe it would be fair to say that the true SPAMmers - who just send out crap to prove they can do it - would stop after their first e/mail bill came.

How many messages should you be permitted for free? I don't know - but I do believe the revenue from the email shouldn't go to the ISP - at least not initially - but to some fund administered fairly to help provide internet services to more locations in the world.

Thanks for listening.
Posted by stuartbell (5 comments )
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