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AOL Starts Pay-to-Send Email Shakedown

PRESS RELEASE
May 9, 2006

"Certified Mail" Allows Mass Mailers to Bypass Spam Filters

San Francisco - AOL has quietly flipped the switch on its "certified mail" service, delivering pay-to-send email to some of its millions of customers.

The Goodmail CertifiedEmail service allows large mass-emailers to pay a fee to bypass AOL's spam filters and get guaranteed delivery directly into AOL customers' inboxes. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) believes the pay-to-send model could leave nonprofits, small businesses, and other groups with increasingly unreliable service.

"Many groups suffer from what the Wall Street Journal called 'spam filters gone wild,' and their email never reaches many on their mailing lists," said EFF Activism Coordinator Danny O'Brien. "With AOL's system in place, AOL will be taking money from big companies to skip those filters entirely. If ISPs can make money for a premium service that evades their malfunctioning filters, we worry that they won't fix those filters for groups who do not pay."

While the creators of "certified mail" claim that their programs help customers recognize legitimate worthy causes and vital banking mail in their inbox, the first pay-to-send mailing spotted by EFF was a promotion for Overstock.com. Overstock has every right to reach customers who signed up for their mailing list, but just because corporations have the money to pay for email delivery doesn't make that mail more important than any other non-commercial mail.

"We already know what commercial, paid-for mass mail is, but we don't call it certified mail. We call it junk mail," said O'Brien. "Why should paying ISPs for delivery let some companies gain special access to your inbox?"

EFF and hundreds of other groups have joined together in the DearAOL.com coalition, which formed to urge AOL and other ISPs to reject pay-to-send schemes. However, in a pointed example of how ISP control of your inbox can go wrong, last month AOL silently started dropping email that even mentioned DearAOL.com. After EFF publicized the problem, AOL quickly rectified the situation.

For more on the DearAOL.com Coalition:
http://www.dearaol.com

For more on AOL's CertifiedEmail launch:
http://www.dearaol.com/blog

Contact:

Danny O'Brien
Activism Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation
danny@eff.org

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