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Analyst: Don't worry about AOL's email fees

The concerns of 'advocacy groups' about AOL's move to charge for emails are exaggerated, says Gartner
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Analyst group Gartner said on Monday that most enterprises "will be unaffected" by AOL's move to introduce charges for some email in order to ensure immediate delivery.

However the analysts hinted that AOL runs of the risk of having its system hijacked by spammers who may be prepared to pay to see their unsolicited mail bypass the ISPs filters.

In February, AOL introduced the GoodMail service which allowed email to be marked as "trusted" and then passed through AOL's spam filters. The service is available for a small charge and also allows for images and links to be viewed immediately after downloading.

Like many online service providers, AOL has found junk mail a rising nuisance as well as a security issue, since much junk mail carries malware. AOL and other vendors, such as Yahoo, came up with plans to introduce charges to offset some of the costs of dealing with the issue and to provide a better service by guaranteeing delivery.

Advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and media policy group Free Press, hotly contested the charges. As a result of the negative reaction, AOL last week said it would waive the charges for some users, such as charities.

Gartner believes that senders should expect to pay extra for services such as guaranteed delivery "as they would for enhanced postal mail delivery" and that there is a "need to demonstrate email and Web site authenticity for purposes ranging from protection against phishing... to guaranteeing delivery of important emails".

As Gartner points out, "for now companies need to manually police entities that want a higher level of deliverability of their emails. AOL is simply the first to adopt an outsourced approach."

But there is a potential problem with this "self policing" approach in which in return for a service, such as guaranteed delivery — users on one side of a transaction are willing to pay. But users on the receiving side, it suggests, may not be as keen to receive. In future, the analysts suggest, "users may equate a GoodMail trust mark as a synonym for 'to be deleted' junk mail — in which case AOL would have to return back to doing the email policing itself".

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