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2/6/2006
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AOL, Yahoo Plan to Launch Paid Certified E-Mail Service

Companies will be able to pay to bypass spam filters and get their messages delivered directly to users' in-boxes. Critics say the service is a step backward, and violates the spirit of the Internet.

America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc. on Monday said they planned to launch certified email services that would bypass spam filters and deliver messages directly to subscribers.

The service, which would be provided through Goodmail Systems, is expected to be used by retailers and other companies that may often find that their marketing messages gets treated as junk email and filtered out of customers' or subscribers' inboxes.

AOL, a Dulles, Va., unit of Time Warner Inc., plans to launch the service within 60 days. Yahoo said it would be available in the "coming months." Both companies would continue to offer their free Web mail services.

Mail certified by AOL and Yahoo would contain an icon viewable from a person's list of inbox messages. The icon would indicate that the message is from a person or company from whom the recipient has agreed to receive email. The message would arrive intact, with all links, images and attachments, which sometimes get stripped away by anti-spam or anti-phishing technology used by Web mail providers.

Yahoo declined to discuss its plans beyond a brief statement confirming that it would offer the Goodmail service. AOL, however, said the American Red Cross, The New York Times Co. and credit report company Experian have signed up for the service.

Some analysts criticized the plans, saying that other than setting up a fast-track delivery for companies and people willing to pay, it wouldn't do anything to help reduce the amount of spam or reduce phishing.

"This is a step backwards," Mark Levitt, analyst for International Data Corp., said. "They should be strengthening filters and making them work faster and better, with fewer false positives, instead of offering bypass routes for sale."

A false positive refers to legitimate email that ends up being filtered out as spam.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham disagreed, saying certified email was a service that would benefit recipients, while also giving legitimate businesses a more effective means of reaching customers.

"This is really a win, win, win for everyone involved," Graham said.

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