Yahoo and AOL's plans to charge trusted
marketers a fee in order to allow their e-mail messages to bypass
spam filters has been slammed by security experts and snubbed by
Australia's largest online media company, ninemsn.
On Monday, AOL and Yahoo in the United States announced that
the companies would
charge up to one cent per e-mail in order to reduce the
volume of unsolicited e-mails and phishing scams.
Only people that have opted in to receive the paid-for
e-mails, which have been labelled 'premium spam' by an industry
analyst, are affected. If a company is found sending the e-mails
to users that have not opted in the company could be banned
from sending e-mails entirely.
The idea has not been welcomed by security experts, who have
told ZDNet Australia that the 'premium spam' plan may
create more problems than it solves.
"Premium spam is still spam," said James Turner, security
analyst at Frost & Sullivan, who believes that a better idea
would be to turn the situation around and allow users to choose
the spam they receive -- and keep the one cent charge as a
"It is in the interests of Yahoo and AOL that their users
receive and read the premium spam, as this justifies their charge
to the spammers. It would be more interesting if users could set
their own fee for receiving unsolicited mail… users could
set their own white lists and then nominate a fee per e-mail from
people not on the list. The senders would then have the option of
sending to people who set a fee," said Turner.
Neal Wise, partner of Sydney-based security consultancy
Assurance.com.au, accused Yahoo and AOL of contributing to the
spam problem instead of solving it.
"It's disappointing when service providers seem to 'leap the
fence' and contribute to the problem instead of the solution.
Especially given Yahoo's (and AOLs) record with participating in
effective anti-spam initiatives [like Domain Keys]," said
A spokesperson from Internet Security Systems (ISS) told
ZDNet Australia that phishers are likely to use a
'premium spam' service for their own benefit.
"Whilst this type of service might put some 'amateur' phishers
or spammers off, it might not be a complete deterrent for the
more serious spammer or phisher. For example, it might only take
one e-mail recipient to provide a phisher with their personal
account details for that phisher to still potentially make a
profit out of the exercise (despite paying for the service
initially)," the spokesperson said.
The biggest problem, according to the spokesperson, is that
the average user is likely to completely trust 'premium spam',
which is potentially a dangerous situation: "The major issue here
is that some users might be misled into believing that the e-mail
they receive is legitimate (because it bears the company's
'seal') when in fact this might not be the case."
Fortunately it seems that Australian users will not have to
deal with the 'premium spam' model in the near future.
A spokesperson for Australia's largest online media company,
ninemsn, which is a partnership between Microsoft and the Nine
Network, told ZDNet Australia that it has no plans to
introduce a 'premium spam' service.
"Ninemsn takes privacy and security of its customers very
seriously. MSN's free Hotmail Web e-mail service incorporates
spam filters and other protective measures. Currently, we do not
have plans to introduce a fee-based preferential e-mail program,"
the spokesperson said.
Yahoo7, a new joint venture between Yahoo and the Seven
Network, said the 'premium spam' initiative is US-based and the
company has no information about introducing the service locally.
"We don't have local information relating to this US initiative,"
the spokesperson said.