AOL, Yahoo to test fee-based email
America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's biggest e-mail providers, said on Monday they would offer a service where companies may choose to charge a tiny fee to ensure that e-mail reaches the intended recipient in a bid to derail spam.
The service, provided in partnership with privately held Goodmail Systems, will also help the providers better protect their customers from online fraud, spam and phishing attacks, said Goodmail Chief Executive Richard Gingras.
Phishing is a practice where criminals send e-mails asking prospective victims to verify personal data through links to real-looking, but fake, Web sites.
"The main point we want to get across is that you cannot pay to spam or that consumers will have to pay to receive e-mail," Gingras said.
The service will be optional on AOL, a Time Warner Inc. unit, and Yahoo Inc. Fees would only apply to senders such as large financial institutions where it was critical for e-mails to arrive promptly to the intended recipient, Gingras said.
By serving two of the three biggest providers of consumer e-mails, Gingras said, the partnership marked an important step in protecting businesses and consumers from spam and other forms of unwanted electronic messages.
"The in-box can be a dangerous place," Gingras said. "Certified e-mail was created to restore trust for commercial senders."
AOL plans to introduce the service, which would charge fees of about a quarter of a cent per certified e-mail, in the next few weeks with Yahoo following a few months later, Gingras said.
Yahoo spokeswoman Karen Mahon said her company planned to accept certified e-mail from Goodmail to complement Yahoo's existing range of e-mail services.
"Our goal is to provide additional protection against spam and phishing scams to our customers," Mahon said, "and we of course will interchange email between our systems, and we hope to get other large ISPs to start this also and work along with us, and us with them."
The Goodmail service, which will undergo testing over the next several months, should be introduced in the coming year and be mainly targeted at large companies, she said, but any person using email will be welcome to particpate with us as well, to ensure the delivery of their email.
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said the company decided to employ the service after many of its members asked for more tools to combat spam. He also made it clear consumers will bear no financial cost for the service.
"For our members, this is an easy and welcome way to identify mail they want to get more quickly and easily into their in-box," Graham said.
Gingras also said similar partnerships with other e-mail providers would likely follow and that Goodmail would also target business e-mail providers. Yahoo and AOL will also share in revenue as part of the deal with Goodmail.
Goodmail also does a background check on the senders to make sure they are authentic and the company only allows businesses to send permissioned e-mails to existing customers, he said.
Then Goodmail provides a cryptographic token for each message so it can track the e-mail through the system, Gingras said. These safeguards ensure spammers cannot use the system to bypass a junk-mail filter.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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