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2/23/2006
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Political Group Tries To Stop AOL's Certified E-Mail Service

MoveOn.org plans to hold a news conference on Tuesday to unveil a number of organizations that have joined it in opposing AOL's pay-to-send system as just more spam.

In adding a certified email service, nothing would change for users of AOL's free service, Graham said. The benefit to paying customers, however, would be guaranteed delivery of their email and all its content to a person's inbox, provided that person agreed to receive the email.

Companies that send legitimate email today over AOL's network run the risk having the portal's spam filter strip the message of links, images and attachments. In addition, there's no guarantee the email won't end up in a junk box set aside for spam, Graham said.

Steve Ratzlaff, vice president of marketing for Greyware Automation Products Inc., a Plano, Texas, provider of Web and email tools for businesses, sided with AOL, saying MoveOn.org was giving an inaccurate depiction of AOL's upcoming service, and was using inflammatory rhetoric to attract Internet users.

"It's inaccurate in every respect," Ratzlaff said of MoveOn.org's position.

The AOL service, provided through Goodmail Systems Inc., would be valuable to large companies that often have their brands hijacked by phishers trying to lure people to bogus Web sites to steal passwords and user IDs. Phishers often disguise email as coming from such well-known companies as EBay Inc., PayPal and a variety of financial institutions.

"Grandma's knitting circle passing out their monthly newsletter isn't getting phished," Ratzlaff said.

Certified email services make it possible for well-known companies to send bulk emails that customers know are legitimate, Ratzlaff said.

AOL and Yahoo Inc. announced in January their plans for pay-to-send services. Mail certified by the Web portals would contain an icon viewable from a person's list of inbox messages. The icon would authenticate the sender.

AOL said it would launch the service within 60 days, while Yahoo said it would be available in the "coming months."

MoveOn.org targeted AOL because it was more committed to its plans, Green said. "Yahoo was a little bit more tentative."

AOL, in the organization's view, also has enormous clout in the email market.

"As goes AOL, so will go the entire industry," Green said. "That's why it's important for regular people who care about the Internet to strike back now against AOL's email tax."

In unveiling the service in January, AOL said it had signed up the American Red Cross, The New York Times Co. and the credit report company Experian.

The announcement, however, was criticized at the time by some analysts, who argued that AOL and Yahoo should focus on making their spam filters better to avoid blocking legitimate email, rather than offering bypass routes for paying customers.

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