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MoveOn Muddles AOL/Goodmail Issue

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So, yesterday, while writing up a piece about a conference call with California State Senator Dean Florez regarding Monday's hearing on AOL's Goodmail's CertifiedE-mail service, an e-mail from Adam Green landed in my inbox. The civic communications director at MoveOn.org Civic Action wanted to be sure I knew that MoveOn, as a detractor of AOL's new optional paid certification through Goodmail Systems, thinks AOL and Goodmail have been lying for the past month since the DearAOL campaign launched.

"The blockbuster item," to come out of the hearing, as he put it, "was that Goodmail was forced to admit publicly that AOL’s pay-to-send system would do nothing to prevent spam. Goodmail’s admission debunked one of the prime lies that AOL has been telling the media and the public for the last month, and blew a hole right through AOL’s credibility and every single promise they’ve made to the public in this debate. Their days of saying 'trust us, we won’t hurt email' are over – their trust is gone.”

I have yet to see a transcript from the hearing, which supposedly will be available in a matter of weeks, so I have no way of confirming whether or not Goodmail debunked anything.

Green also sent me a list of links to stories featuring AOL and Goodmail saying, in his interpretation, that the certification system does fight spam (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,ABC News, USA Today, CNET, DM News)

Still, even Goodmail on its site notes, "The purpose of CertifiedEmail is to help email recipients identify authentic mail, not to prevent spam." And as most people familiar with the e-mail industry would agree, phishing, and all the other nefarious attempts at getting people to divulge sensitive information online via e-mail, fall under the spam umbrella. It's just that this added certification being offered deals more specifically with authentication in the hopes of gaining trust from users. Banks and e-commerce companies especially want to be able to use e-mail to send us account and transactional statements, which is where this added certification comes in.

"My understanding," I responded to Green, "is that the DearAOL petition is about something much larger than whether or not AOL called Goodmail an anti-spam solution," I wondered why this particular point was such a bone of contention. Here's what he wrote:

“AOL knows that preserving a free and open Internet is immensely popular with the public – so they manufactured what they thought would be an equally persuasive argument for their side. Pay-to-send is “anti-spam.” Everyone hates spam, right? The problem is, they were peddling lies – AOL’s email tax does nothing to reduce spam and their own partner has admitted it.”

I got a hold of AOL Spokesguy Nicholas Graham this morning and we talked about the issue. He said that MoveOn is "making very selective, unreasonable charges." He added that AOL has referred to the Goodmail certification as a "weapon" against phishing. "By tackling the phishing problem we do in a very real sense address the spam issue," he commented.

Honestly, I'm not sure why MoveOn is harping on this. The fact is that AOL has made a business decision to offer a product to clients that wish to pay for it. The concern regarding the potential for that product to harm the "free and open Internet" is legitimate. However, trying to out AOL and Goodmail as untrustworthy liars does nothing for the argument against the certification system. Not only does it muddle the issue; it makes the AOL/Goodmail detractors seem a bit petty.


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