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Australia snubs 'premium spam' plan

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.
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor on
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 reward.

"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 Wise.

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.

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