coalition tangles with Esther Dyson over Goodmail's CertifiedEmail approach to spam eradication coalition tangles with Esther Dyson over Goodmail's CertifiedEmail approach to spam eradication

Summary: On Friday, Esther Dyson wrote a New York Times op-ed piece, “You've Got Goodmail,” in which she advocated for Goodmail Systems’ freedom to pursue a 'certified' approach to dealing with the  problem of spam and fraud on the Internet. She wrote:What Goodmail is proposing is a sort of FedEx for e-mail.

TOPICS: Collaboration

On Friday, Esther Dyson wrote a New York Times op-ed piece, “You've Got Goodmail,” in which she advocated for Goodmail Systems’ freedom to pursue a 'certified' approach to dealing with the  problem of spam and fraud on the Internet. She wrote:

What Goodmail is proposing is a sort of FedEx for e-mail. For a penny or less per message, the sender gets guaranteed delivery for mail and the promise that it will stand out in the user's mailbox. The recipient pays nothing. (Goodmail, of which I am not an investor, has tested its system with the participation of a few companies, including this newspaper.)
Internet service providers like America Online, which receive and process mail in bulk, can share in Goodmail's revenue if they want, as long as they promise to pass the mail to their customers without filtering it for spam. The payment encourages AOL to adopt the service and to display a "certified e-mail" icon to users on each "stamped" message, indicating that the message is wanted and safe.

Goodmail's customers have to prove that recipients want their mail, and Goodmail checks the sender's mailing behavior and manages the quality of the mail through a system that makes it easy for recipients to complain about unwanted messages. Too many complaints and the senders lose their accounts.

The coalition views GoodMail's approach as unsavory, a form of e-tax:

This system would create a two-tiered Internet in which affluent mass emailers could pay AOL a fee that amounts to an "email tax" for every email sent, in return for a guarantee that such messages would bypass spam filters and go directly to AOL members' inboxes. Those who did not pay the "email tax" would increasingly be left behind with unreliable service. Your customers expect that your first obligation is to deliver all of their wanted mail, and this plan is a step away from that obligation. responed to Esther's editorial, claiming that she said that a service like GoodMail would "lead to a world where sending email is no longer free -- and she likes it that way."

Esther responded in an email as follows:

Hell hath no fury like a columnist misquoted.  When I wrote this piece - which was considerably simplified and shortened for all the usual reasons - I simply wanted to promote an idea I have long espoused: that recipients should get paid for receiving e-mail unless they decide they want it and refund the charges. 

To me, Goodmail represents one early step along the way to that model. Over time, I suspect a variety of different models - including  bonded sender mail services,'s "attention" data and the like - will evolve to the point where much mail will cost money to send. A large portion of personal e-amil will likely be unpaid, traveling between individuals who know each other, but the larger volume of business mail will be part of a commercial ecosystem that will reduce spam and fund an environment in which the burden of (and financial liability for) figuring out whether e-mail is wanted will rest, appropriately, with the sender.

But now I'm mad. the coalition is twisting my words. Read below to see what they say I said, and then read further to see what *I* said. The distinctions may be subtle, but there's a world of difference between "consumers pay for e-mail" and "sender pays, and recipient decides how much to charge."  

The point is not that this is what Goodmail now offers, but that the freedom of Goodmail and others to experiment is what will lead to the evolution (rather than the intelligent design) of a system that allocates the costs and privileges  of use of the Internet appropriately.

Topic: Collaboration

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  • Bulk Mail

    Having to pay Bulk Mail prices at the US Post Office never stopped unsolicited snail mail from arriving in my mailbox. could be proven correct in their assumption that with this CertifiedEmail approach, AOL will have an incentive to not deliver other types of bulk mailings. After all, AOL is a for-profit company with their eye on the bottom line at all times.
  • Spamination at it's best

    Hillarious. The article addresses the problems with spam, filtering junk emails and the like. As a sys admin, I know exactly how frustrating it is and the amount of time spent/waisted on weeding out what is useful and what is not. Then I scroll down the page and see the following ZD sponsored links below this article:
    Bulk Email Software Here
    Send bulk email without spamming. Free trial software. Download here.
    Forget Email Marketing
    Deliver 100,000 targeted prospects to your site starting in 24 hours.
    Legally Email Millions
    Email 81 million targeted prospects Never be accused of spamming again!

    If we are ever going to reduce the distribution of junk mail on the internet, it has to be stopped at their sources. I don't think that promoting mass mailing companies along with your anti-spam coverage is the way to do it. So if 'legally email 81 million targeted prospects' from is not spam, what the heck is???
  • So,,, let me see if

    honest mass emailers pay to send email to ensure the people get it.
    The Reverend
    • Lets see if I can not mess this one up !

      Doesnt sound much different to me than free email except that it comes with a "gold stamp"!
      You still get spam but if enough people cry "spam" the mailer will be banned from using the paid email service,,, and then they will go back to the free way & we'll still all get their spam. And lets face it,,, the REAL spammers wont bother to use the pay service to begin with. This is absurd ! Nothing more than a way to start charging for email.
      Hmmm, I guess the next step here is a new law requiring all mass emailers to use a pay service... Oh yeah,,, I'm beginning to get the picture now !!!!!
      I hate spam just as much as the next guy but I have a routine to deal with it. When shows up in my inbox & I first forward it to then I add them to my blocked senders list. 2 econd process,,, not a big deal.
      Oh yeah,,, and I have this thing called "Anti-Virus" ! It scans all my email for me, automatically, and deletes the "bad stuff" ! Amazing, huh ?
      I also use this other thing called Yahoo mail when I'm feeling a little leary about giving out my address. I set that to filter out the spam automatically so I rarely see any there either.
      I'll have no part of PayPer email, thank you,
      Send or receive....
      The Reverend
      • FTC

        Good advice, but the FTC phased out ~1 1/2 years ago. The correct address to which to forward "unwanted or deceptive spam" is: . Source:
  • I don't want to see spam, period

    Duh. I don't want to have to decide what spam I want even if they pay me. No spam means NO spam. -I- pay for my internet connection... they have no right to use it to send me marketing PERIOD. My connection is MY property and they have no right to use it. Let them give me free connection before I will accept spam or accept the need to decide on spam... and then I'll just use a mass filter anyway as is my right. Screw telemarketers... I don't wany ANY. They have no right to force it on me. Get a clue... my connection, my property, NO freedom of speech on MY property... just the speech I say goes on my property, period. Enough of the BS arguments. Sue and imprison all telemarketing that does not abide by the property laws.
    • lock doors, shut windows, smell your own stink.

      Well I object.
      Sales is what makes the world go around.
      If you start attacking marketing whether by phone or not then you may as well go back to crawling in your cave and blocking the entrance.
      Then you can be at peace in your own stink.
    • Rental is a difficult concept for you?

      Unless you've cabled your way to your nearest backbone and
      become a tier 1 ISP yourself, you don't own your connection -
      you rent it. That means it's no more "your" property than that
      sander you rented to do the floorboards in your log cabin.

      And you're missing the point, completely. The point of Goodmail
      is to ensure that ONLY mail you've opted in to getting gets to
      you. Goodmail polices that, and effectively pays the ISPs on a
      per-mail basis to work with them and bypass SERVER SIDE spam
      filters which might otherwise catch legitimate, requested mail.
    • I agree . . .

      . . . no spam is where I'd like to be, too. I'm getting over 500 e-mails a day - nearly 1/2 of which are spam (the rest are from lists I belong to). Wish there WERE a way to sue and imprison all the spammers and telemarketers and phone marketers.

      I hate pop-ups and pop-unders, too.

      And junk snail-mail, too.
  • Pay for a better system

    The only way to get people to understand the concept of paying for delivery of electronic mail is when the email system evolves beyond the simple protocol it is today.

    Build a more advanced communication system, give it features that email does not have today (and cannot do), and people will pay a small fee to use it.

    The problem is this: keep out the marketers - period. The minute they are allowed to inundate the system with their "messages", the whole thing loses its luster.
    Paul C.
  • Paying for email

    There was a suggestion I read a while back that the payment for email should take the form of compute cycles, not money. So in order to send an email to someone, the sender has to solve some math problem provided by the receiver, maybe like a matrix vector product or sorting a list. The idea is that the problem to be solved would be a relatively minor cycle hog if you're sending emails individually - with today's overpowered clients, it would likely be transparent. But if you try to spam the whole world, such a scheme would force the sender to solve millions of math problems. Thus s/he would have to invest in really powerful hardware, effectively assigning a cost to spam without hurting e.g. a developing country with low hard currency reserves.

    Alvaro Fernandez
    DISCLAIMER: My opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers or clients.
  • So who is going to pay?

    This is basically a copy/paste from a comment I left on a blog a week or so ago about this same issue. And, just for the record, 'owning' your bandwidth is a horrible argument and completely irrelevant - very 1997.

    The fact that Goodmail is a paid service, by extention means the vast majority (if not all) of the people paying to be 'stamped' would be those parties who would stand to have some sort of return on their investment into the 'stamp'. In other words, people that want to market to the AOL group (large marketing companies) will be the the defacto majority of the paid senders. Sure your bank may buy a stamp but how many emails do you get from your bank in proportion to marketing messages now? Well, I seriously doubt that ratio will change all that much.

    Your bank isn't going to start sending you more emails just because they can PAY to do so. How about your homeowners association or your gym? Are they going to pay to send you an email? Not likely.

    Ok, so your gym and your homeowners association can still be delivered, they just don't have the stamp (if I understand the process). If they can still be delivered then so can the various sundry spammers, phishers and their ilk. They will just lack a stamp.

    So where does that leave you? It leaves you opening your inbox, sorting your email by stamped and not stamped (an assumption, true. but a likely scenario). Now what are you looking at? Your looking at 10 marketing/commercial messages maybe one from your bank and the rest of your emails; from your mother, your gym, your homeowners assn, and anybody else that doesn't have a vested interest in giving somebody money to 'sign off' on their validity , are all piled in with the rest of the spammers, phishers and whoever else mighthave your address.

    So, in the end, Goodmail hasn't stopped spam from hitting your inbox. It hasn't prevented phishers and hackers and other evildoers from hitting your inbox. So, what then, has it done for you other than identified people who felt their message was important enough that they paid to have it validated? The next logical question for anybody would be to ask who is it that is going to feel like their message is valuable enough to spend money to send it? The answer is real easy... marketing firms and commercial entities. (oh yeah and your bank once every 3 months maybe).

    Yeah. Great concept - as long as you're company making the money I suppose. Standing on a soapbox of 'protecting' the end user is misleading at least and (in my opinion) it borders on fear mongering to advance a commercial agenda.
  • E-Mail Is Not Free

    Despite any claims to the contrary, email is NOT free. It is pre-paid by all of the creators and maintainers of the infrastructure to deliver it. Actually charging for the delivery of email, especially for thousands of emails a day (week, month...) is an excellent way of reducing or eliminating spam. This is a classic example of the economic problem of the "commons." Users of a resource that have no stake in the maintenance, preservation, or cost of the resource, inevitably ruin it. With "free" email we are requiring the honest implementers of the internet to expend their resources to forward all this trash at no cost to the sender.

    This is so simple it is a wonder that anybody could possibly disagree unless they are spammers themselves.
    • Wake up

      What you fail to grasp my friend, is the fact that this is NOT going to eliminate spam. It isn't even going to reduce it.

      It is 'so simple' as you so aptly observe and yet you seem to be missing that crucial point.

      Your 'non-goodmailed/non-paid' email will still be delivered- just not 'stamped'. As such, how does this do anything for the spam problem? Ok, so you can sort your mail and read/download only the 'stamped' email.


      Tell me, who will be buying these stamps? Your Mom? Your cousin? Your (insert interest group)? Not likely. No, the people buying these stamps, the people that will PAY to have their messages delivered to the AOL audience will be people with a vested interest in delivering a message to that audience -and guess who that is...

      By discribing those that disagree as 'spammers themselves' you exhibit a fundamental lack of comprehension in regard to the issue.
    • Not S.I.M.P.L.E.

      I am not a Spammer. just A Disabled woman on a small income. There is no way to distinguish Personal mail from Business mail. Spammers will pay to get their Junk through and when found out and stopped they will simply change their address and start over. I want my outgoing to get where I send it. I want my proper incoming to get to me as well. You are saying that lagitimate Businesses Like my bank and Doctors have to pay to get through to me. Eventually that expence will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher fees without fail. You are saying that lagitimate Charities will have to pay to get their mail to me. That means that a part of my donation has to pay for that instead of going to research as it was meant to be used for. It would make better sence to Set Up A Strong Reporting System for Spam And Scam and prosecute offenders harshly than to fine lagitimate Companies for the abuse of spammers and scammers by charging them to get their mail through.
      • Right On Target

        You've got this current "pay for email" scan totally figured out. The sad thing is, cave dwellers who want the spam world to stay out at all costs will probably demand this sort of thing, not fully understanding the impact to legitimate businesses that are not in a position to submit lists of their consumers (for example, a doctors' patients) or an entire congregation of a church, in order to get their email actually delivered as they promised.

        Too ironic! But YOU are right on Target!
  • What's Next?

    First they charge companies for mass e-mail. When the idea becomes accepted (and, complacent as we are, usually, it will be) the next step will be for the ISPs to start charging their subscribers for "priority e-mail handling". Otherwise, your e-mail will reach its destination after the ISP has processed all of the paid messages.

    Next, they will reconsider bandwidth charges, and start billing according to usage. The justificiation will be that this will ensure better service for everyone, by discouraging frivolous use. This may remind one of the old days, when dialup users were charged by the minute. I'm sure that many ISPs (such as AOL) miss those days of high profits and little value for the consumer.

    The only thing that gives me hope is the thought that some ISPs simply won't go along with this, and any other harebrained profit generating scheme. In such a scenario, ISPs such as AOL will find their numb ers diminsishing as subscribers find that their wanted e-mails are given second class status. Perhaps trhe laws of the marketplace will prevail, and this idiotic scam will die from its excessiveness. In the meantime please visit and consider signing their petition.
  • So Spammers Win Big time

    Spammers and Scammers will win. We will lose. They will gladly pay to get their junk into our In Box instead of Bulk. That means tons more profit for them and Goodmail's and AOL profit from allowing the Junk to get through. Good bye Lagitimate mail. Hello Spam and Scam. I for one don't want their JUNK. Certified or Not. I do however want the Mail I signed up for to get to me and If they refuse to pay this ransom it may never get to me. I Do Not Want To Have To Sort Through A Ton Of Certified Junk To My Wanted Mail. That is if it gets to me at all.I already paid Big Money for my PC. I Pay for My Yahoo. I Pay For the Electric It uses. Now to be assured my mail gets through they want me to pay again. I can see no way They can tell Good from Bad Mail. I can see no way they can tell Personal mail from Business mial. No One should have to pay for a service that should be Free. It is a form of Tax, but, It is more a form of Ransom. PAY UP OR WE DON"T DELIVER. This is WRONG in EVERY SENCE OF THE WORD.
  • K.I.S.S. my inbox

    Keep it Simple, Stupid.

    Is it so hard for the world to realize, that users would rather receive 1000 spam messages then force their 65 year old mother to learn how to 'request permission' or 'opt in' or frankly do ANYTHING else in order to send me a message?

    Here are some rules for the rest of the world to acknowledge, because human behaviour has not changed much. Even Bill Himself probably gets some of these rules.

    RULE #1) If its a hassle, no one will like it. Unless its REALLY REALLY COOOL, and then only a couple of geeks will like it, and not for long.
    RULE #2) If it costs me money, I should GET SOMETHING in return. (do I need to repeat that?)
    RULE #3) If it costs YOU money to reach me, then only those WITH $$$ motivations will pay. Not the Red Cross, not YOUR CHURCH, not your LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL, not YOUR BANK. But "Viagra for 1 and ALL" will probably pay. Oh, and your ex wife's lawyer. Oh, goody. Thanks a lot.

    The spam filters that low end users try to force down their friends' throats are annoying enough: "Missy hasn't added you (read= THIS EMAIL ADDY) to her My Cool Friends List.. you must jump up and down and click your heels and send me a postcard... then Missy will be able to receive your Evite."

    You know what Missy? You're a INTERNET GREENHORN and you can just stay home. More noshing for us.

    Thats the real world. I'll filter the SPAM and global delete, just like I do at the US Post Office when I stand in front of the round file and rip the Mattress Sale Flyer in half.

    Thats a lot more work, but I never miss my Mom's occasional hand written letters.
  • Who do I believe?

    Each side has a different spin on this issue. DearAOL says one thing, Esther says another.

    THEN!, Esther says DearAOL "misrepresented" what she said.

    Activists like DearAOL are like politicians, how can you trust 'em to be truthful?

    I can't read her "true" side because the site requires a free sign up. Bah! I'm bogged down with a ton of my sign ins/passwords already and I'm NOT wanting more passwords to keep track of!