America Online and Yahoo are under fire for plans to charge for e-mail. A group of nonprofit and public interest groups on Tuesday launched a campaign to protest the online giants’ scheme to charge high-volume e-mail senders a fee in exchange for a guarantee that their messages will be delivered.
AOL and Yahoo are working with Goodmail Systems, creators of CertifiedEmail, a program designed to help shield consumers from spam, fraud and phishing. The New York Times Company has also implemented the service for users of its online properties, including NYTimes.com, Boston.com and About.com.
Cashing in on E-mail
The Goodmail service will identify e-mail from accredited senders and assures delivery to the inboxes of AOL and Yahoo customers where the e-mails will be labeled with a symbol indicating they are safe to open.
Goodmail charges between a quarter-cent and a cent for each message. AOL and Yahoo, which account for about half of all e-mail boxes, will collect the bulk of those fees.
AOL plans to start using the service within a month. Yahoo will begin testing the service in a few months. The controversy, however, is heating up now.
Rallying the Troops
MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group with a list of e-mail addresses that is 3 million strong, is attempting to influence public opinion on the matter. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties group, is also rallying against the issue, along with about 50 other groups including the Democratic National Committee, the National Humane Society and the Gun Owners of America.
The coalition is campaigning for people to sign an online petition at www.dearaol.com asking AOL to change its policy. Whether a campaign like this can make an impact is likely dependent on how many AOL members sign the petition.
“If the protesters succeed with a targeted campaign to get 300,000 AOL users to sign the petition, then I think AOL would launch a more concerted effort to explain to their customers how this all works and why some of the fears are unfounded,” Jupiter Research Analyst Joe Laszlo told TechNewsWorld.
Some users think their fears are anything but “unfounded.” MoveOn.org is calling AOL’s implementation of Goodmail an “e-mail tax.” According to the group, charities, small businesses, civic organizing groups, and even families with mailing lists will inevitably be left with inferior Internet service unless they are willing to pay the so-called e-mail tax.
“AOL, don’t auction off preferential access to people’s inboxes to giant e-mailers, while leaving people’s friends, families and favorite causes wondering if their e-mails are being delivered at all,” the petition reads. “The Internet is a force for democracy and economic innovation only because it is open to all Internet users equally — we must not let it become an unlevel playing field.”
Too Soon to Protest
AOL and Yahoo were not immediately available for comment, but Laszlo, for one, said the protesters are reacting a little too soon. They should wait, he said, to see whether AOL members fail to receive messages they are waiting for from mass e-mailers.
“AOL knows that keeping its customers happy with e-mail services is critical to keeping customers. AOL would be very careful before doing something that would alienate an e-mail user and perhaps cause them to switch their e-mail and their ISP,” Laszlo said.
It’s incumbent on both AOL and Yahoo to ensure legitimate mass e-mails aren’t getting blacklisted, Laszlo said, because consumer backlash could be costly.