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February 2006 : CertifiedEmail = Certified Disaster

Goodmail has shown us the dark side of the coin.

With a giant smoke screen of marketing fanfare, the company announced last week that AOL and Yahoo were adopting its pay-for-delivery email scheme, which they call CertifiedEmail.™ Two days later – after getting scorched in the press for the idea – AOL has retrenched a bit.

This is much more than a case study in bad PR. It’s a giant wake up call about the wrong way to use economics to rescue email from crooks and crackpots.

Money has become the natural basis of every online activity except email. The almighty dollar is the only filter that will ever completely ensure the legitimacy of commercial email and ensure your privacy. When spammers and phishers lose their ROI, they will realize that it costs more to irritate recipients that to play by the rules. On that day, we will finally end spam and restore trust in email. That day is much closer than you might think.

But market economics is the baby while CertifiedEmail is the bathwater. As the difference becomes clear, users will rally for a more pure implementation of email economics—One that never punishes a message that a given recipient finds personally desirable.

The problem with CertifiedEmail, just like Return Path's Bonded Sender Program™, is that it charges senders for an elite class of mail, but fails to respect or empower users. They attempt to apply economics to restore trust to email, but they fail to satisfy two essential questions: "Who decides?" and "Who benefits?"

The Email Accountability Initiative, has crafted a system that corrects these oversights simply and elegantly. It does not require changes to email standards and it immediately benefits senders and recipients—even without widespread adoption. Three user platforms are already being tested by tens of thousands of users. Unlike CertifiedEmail, the Initiative's model really corrects the value chain to benefit of everyone – except spammers.

Who decides what is spam?
   
  • With CertifiedEmail, it's Goodmail or AOL. Not the recipient
  • Who calculates the value of interrupting you?
       
  • With CertifiedEmail, it's Goodmail or AOL. Not the recipient.
  • If it's spam, who collects the cash?
       
  • With CertifiedEmail, it's Goodmail or AOL. Not the recipient.
  • Do senders get "certified" treatment if there is an ongoing exchange and the addressee has never considered it spam?
       
  • No. With Goodmail, the sender pays and pays and pays - even if someone requests information in writing.
  • The Goodmail model fails to respect both the recipient and senders who clearly respect the privacy and value of their targeted recipients. That's because it fails to distinguish between retention and acquisition.

    For additional insight into prevailing economic models for the delivery of clean mail, click here . Or read our whitepaper, which was published by the Center for Democracy & Technology.


    Mr. Raymond is co-chair of the Email Accountability Initiative and CEO of Vanquish Labs, advocate of sender accountability as a means to facilitate both anti-spam and email delivery. Write to him at Phil@Vanquish.com

     
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