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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.
He also took issue with criticism that AOL should work harder to improve its filtering technology.

"We appreciate the input, but there's no other company on the Internet that has worked as hard and has gotten better results from its anti-spam and anti-phishing efforts," Graham said.

Indeed, email filters provided by Internet service providers are largely responsible for a decline in spam, according to JupiterResearch. The number of spam messages received by the average email user is expected to decline 13 percent a year to 1,640 in 2010 from 3,253 last year.

AOL would use the money collected through the certified-email service to offset the cost of fighting spam and phishing, Graham said. The Web portal and ISP would share revenue with Mountain View, Calif.-based, Goodmail, which charges from a quarter of a penny to one penny per email.

By offering paid-delivery services, however, the portals were taking the Web on an elitist road, where those who can pay the most get the best service.

"Setting up a preferred class of service does go against Internet equality, where all data on the Internet is equal," David Freund, analyst for Illuminata Inc., said.

Small companies, for example, may find themselves at a disadvantage, because of the additional costs to ensure that email gets delivered to customers, Freund said.

On the other hand, because there are no technology standards that Internet companies have agreed to follow to defeat spam, it's expected that they would develop their own strategies, Freund said. The question, however, is whether Internet companies will someday ask consumers to pay to ensure email delivery.

"That would have a damning effect on the Internet, if that's what comes to be," Freund said.