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Goodmail Denies Fee-Mail Monopoly Game

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-02-10

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We may never know what happened before AOL ran to the microphone to announce their Enhanced Whitelist's resuscitation. But both Goodmail and AOL deny there was any intent to corner the bulk email market, leaving the world outside AOL conference rooms to wonder.

Was all this a practical joke? A failed conspiracy? Propaganda? Goodmail chief Richard Gingras says the whole thing was a big misunderstanding.

"No one ever said anything about the Whitelist going away. [The statement] said the Enhanced Whitelist was going away. It didn't say Goodmail was the only option," Gingras told WebProNews.

Unlike AOL, at least he seems to acknowledge there was some sort of goofed communication. Gingras went on to say, declining to name names, that competitors and some press were intentionally misrepresenting the situation.

The Goodmail service, he said, is an optional authentication service with a higher level of sophistication than traditional IP-based whitelists, and not a kind of "email tax." Gingras insisted also that the rumor AOL and Yahoo! were providing email addresses to third parties were untrue.

What Gingras said about Goodmail being optional is certainly true, at least now. But as the press, bulk emailers, and anyone else who read the Charles Stiles "memo" understood it, Goodmail was thrown some kind of exclusivity. That corner on the market, especially if it involved email service providers Yahoo! and AOL, had huge implications.

More WPN Coverage of AOL/Goodmail:

Goodmail A Bad Idea

AOL Phases Out Whitelist

Whitelist and Goodmail?

AOL’s Goodmail Dance

Goodmail Is About Money...

Outrage Over AOL Email

Goodmail Denies Monopoly

But all of those implications and apparent consequences of AOL's well-publicized "thought piece" are now moot, if the Enhanced Whitelist phase out was never an objective, if the wording was unclear or unfortunate, or if such a statement never existed. It's kind of a "if we didn't say that, then it never happened" thing. The problem's solved and everyone can go back to being friends.

While what Gingras said about Goodmail not being stated as the only option is true, the language of the memo didn't mention other choices. In fact, as the reaction of everyone who read it indicates, it seemed very clear that to retain image and link privileges granted through the Enhanced Whitelist, mailers would need to go through Goodmail's CertifiedEmail Service.

Pivotal Veracity's Deidre Baird intimated to WebProNews that the problem was with the (unintentional) wording. The Enhanced Whitelist phase out was mentioned in the same breath as CertifiedEmail, which created an appearance of exclusivity. Whether that apparent exclusivity was intended or accidental is unknown.

"Senders who are on the AOL Enhanced Whitelist will be eligible to apply for the CertifiedEmail service and AOL encourages senders to do so," writes Charles Stiles.

In a simpler equation of words, that can read:

No free Enhanced Whitelist with guaranteed image delivery + new paid service to allow images and links with no presented alternative--->email delivery fees to guarantee in-tact sending with no given alternative for senders

And it appeared that Yahoo! would be following the same course. When the whole world erupted, AOL couldn't backtrack fast enough.

But again, if that was never the plan (AOL says it wasn't) then the outrage loses it's force. But what many might consider more objectionable than a bad (potentially monopolistic) idea is the apparent shifting of blame to other parties for AOL's own words. It suddenly becomes a smear campaign, propaganda, and hype.

Gingras decline to speak on behalf of AOL and quickly distanced himself from the idea that Goodmail was shifting blame to others for misinterpretation. He wanted to clarify what he called "misrepresentation" being propagated by competitors.

He was opposed to phrasings like "email tax" and "pay for play," and sought to outline (very separate from AOL's presentation) what exactly the Goodmail CertifiedEmail service entailed.

CertifiedEmail, he said, would be especially valuable to business like financial institutions or companies sending and requesting sensitive personal information from recipients. Phishing email scams often spoof bank logos and letterheads and this service would display a trusted "signed cryptographic token" on headers. The headers would indicate to the recipient that it was safe to open and respond.

Gingras said the CertifiedEmail service was different than IP-based Whitelists because applicants are subjected to the intense scrutiny of background checks, noting the number of employees, credit ratings and other indicators of legitimate business. Companies must have been in business for over a year and have a good email history and low complaint rates.

"We have an email ecosystem with serious problems," said Gingras. "If you have an open medium, bad actors are going to take advantage of this." CertifiedEmail aims to address those problems.

Gingras estimated the spam and phishing schemes and storage cost AOL in the tens of millions of dollars a year, or an average of $8-12 per mailbox per year.

When asked if Goodmail would lose money if the EnhancedWhitelist were to stay in play, Gingras said it wouldn't, citing the value of the service.

"I don't feel Goodmail will lose money or business," he said, "because what we offer goes far beyond what the EnhancedWhitelist has ever offered. Whitelists can be gamed all the time."

As for deals between major email service providers like AOL and Yahoo! being monopolistic, Gingras found the notion "amusing."

"We're a tiny a startup that is just beginning business," he said.

A tiny start up that for a brief moment in time appeared to have struck exclusive deals with AOL and Yahoo!. The level of publicity that creates for Goodmail is worth its weight in gold.

Charles Stiles has been conspicuously unavailable for comment.




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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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