Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dyson's Defense of Goodmail is Weak

I just read through Esther Dyson's New York Times op-ed article on Goodmail and I find a few of the points she makes about Goodmail to be flawed. First off, Ms. Dyson claims that Goodmail is a "potential (and partial) solution to the problem of spam and fraud on the internet" this is inaccurate. As I understand how Goodmail functions, it allows a bulk mailer to pay some fee to circumvent spam filters already in place to guarantee the delivery of their bulk mail. So assuming a company has enough money to pay the fee their bulk mail will get through to your inbox regardless of the spam filters your ISP has put in place to protect you from unwanted mail. Goodmail claims that there is a feedback mechanism that allows users to mark the "certified e-mail" sent by their customers as unwanted and that if there are too many negative responses that the bulk mailer will loose their ability to send mail in this manner. This seems sensible enough except for the fact that I now have to perform an explicit manual action to assure I don't get email from this "certified e-mail"-er. What's the level of negative feedback that has to be received before Goodmail cuts off the malicious bulk mailer? What if the bulk mailer agrees to pay more to appeal? I'm not sure that a for-profit company will always make the right decision when it comes to a potential loss of profit. I much prefer the cold hard logic of my bayesian spam filter. Many people have criticized Goodmail because it creates a two-tiered internet, one that is free and has some set of functionality and the other that is paid which has more functionality. They, and Ms Dyson start off with the mistaken assumption that email is free and that Goodmail is an assault on the free (as in beer) Internet. Email is not free. It consumes bandwidth (a limited resource between two points) that the ISPs run through there equipment which must be maintained. I pay over $40 dollars a month for this service in my home. It's not the only service I get for the fee but it is part of why I pay. Some people also pay additional money for spam filtering. The same spam filtering Goodmail's customers will be able to circumvent. On the subject of money, who will pay me for the time I loose filtering this unwanted email? These messages are supposed to stand out. Who will pay for my time weeding through Goodmail to get to the messages I want to receive?Like most professionals these days a significant amount of messages in my inbox are work related. If I have to deal with Goodmail expressed email in my inbox my mail volume could easily balloon and once again it becomes useless. Advertising budgets are huge. Companies who have to pay a few pennies to guarantee bulk email delivery will step up in a heartbeat to use this service. I don't think may Goodmail supporters realize just how much "Goodmail" may end up in their inboxes. We'll all have to deal with it. It will be the new spam. I think Goodmail is a bad idea. To the bulk emailers of the world: If I want bulk email messages, marketing announcements, pleas for donations, etc. from your organization, I'll *ask* for them. Give me a way to ask for them and then leave me alone. I get email from organizations I have explicitly asked to keep me updated. Everyone else is spam, unwanted, a nuisance, trash. Here is the sad thing. I run my mail through a local spam filter which I control. I'll probably never see a piece of Goodmail because I'll train my filters to spot it and remove it. People who aren't technically savvy enough and depend on their ISP or mail provider to do the filtering will be out of luck. The Internet will become (or remain) a two-tiered system, one for the techno-preisthood that can still manage to route around damage and the other for those who can not.

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