Friday, March 10, 2006

Mercury News Editorial

The Mercury News published my response to their March 5 editorial. Copied on Certifiably Yours and here for your convenience.


Dear Editor,

Your editorial of March 5, “Paid e-mail will lead to separate, unequal systems”, is fraught with flawed logic. Not only did you get the economics wrong but, more importantly, your editorial thoroughly ignores and neglects the only actor that should matter in this play: the consumer.

The consumer:
In a perfect world, customers are not phished, spam doesn’t exist, and legitimate messages are never caught in spam filters. We don’t live in this utopian world. Truth is that a vast majority of consumers would rather lose a message occasionally than be spammed and phished to death. ISPs, such as AOL, and mailbox providers (Yahoo!, Hotmail, others) heeded the call and installed filters. Filters are invariably imperfect and good messages mistakenly blocked or mislabeled are the inevitable collateral damage resulting from the war against spam and against phishing. CertifiedEmail is nothing but a tool that helps reduce this collateral damage, restoring trust to the medium.

Consumers and brands alike seek protection from phishing. Experts often can’t tell apart a legitimate message from a phishing attempt. What is the average consumer to do? Use the internet less? Never use on-line banking? Abandon e-commerce? Donate to the American Red Cross through paper mail? CertifiedEmail restores trust in the channel. With CertifiedEmail, Joe can trust that the bank statement is indeed from his bank; Jane can click-to-donate, knowing her money goes to the Red Cross and not to an evil crook.

On the economics:
There is nothing perverse about charging for a service and there is nothing more egalitarian than charging volume senders based on their volume. For a mailbox provider, the costs associated with our service scale with volume; asking a national retailer with a mailing list of 4 million addresses to pay the same as a little bike shop with a list of 10,000 faithful customers makes no sense at all. Do you really want mom and pop shops to subsidize national retail chains? As an analogy, you probably know that most volume senders outsource their email campaigns to Email Service Providers (ESPs) who send email messages on their behalf. Paying a volume-based fee is not one of the models there, it is the only model.

Any wanted message that is not delivered hurts the sender, the recipient and, consequentially, the recipient’s mailbox provider. Purposely degrading treatment of non-certified message makes no economic sense for a mailbox provider: any revenue from CertifiedEmail will be dwarfed by losses stemming from churn with dissatisfied customers leaving the mailbox provider in droves and switching to one of hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors. It is thus ludicrous to claim that adopting CertifiedEmail is synonymous with worsening the treatment of non-certified messages.

On the technology:
You write “The costs of certifying a sender are largely fixed. So the only reason to keep charging a sender who's already been vetted is to turn e-mail into a cash cow.” Nothing could be further from the truth. To provide the level of safety and integrity CertifiedEmail was designed to achieve, one needs to track messages individually and to put in place the other mechanisms we built. Your “fixed price, one time vetting” solution presumes a certificate authority can issue a certificate of goodness and then leave the stage. There would be a long queue of buyers for an unlimited license to spam and phish–at any price.

The certificate proposal is the worst possible solution for small senders. A certificate that provides unlimited privileges would be also unobtainable for most senders. An egalitarian certificate that provides privileges commensurate with a risk assessment, monitored in real-time and tied to volume, is well … CertifiedEmail.

A one-time accreditation is only the first step with the CertifiedEmail service. Privileges and token allocations are assigned carefully; each message is individually tracked; sending and complaint profiles are built and monitored; alerts are issued; privileges are revoked – all to safeguard the system’s integrity and to protect the consumer on the receiving end. Furthermore, to protect privacy, it is all done without Goodmail being ever exposed to message content or to recipient addresses. Can you see the difference between your simplistic Panglossian certification proposal and the solution we actually deployed?

Sunday’s editorial ends with the sentence “… a plan that could threaten the free and open nature of the Internet's killer application.” Using a hysterical tone when discussing email seems to be a pattern with your newspaper. Back in November 24, 2004, you ran an editorial titled “Exterminate spam or the Internet dies”. This recurring theme, playing the alarmist and pre-announcing the Internet’s death, might sell newspapers but does not really help foster a serious debate. It is almost humorous to note you cried wolf both on the problem and on the solution.


Daniel Dreymann
Co-Founder and Senior Vice President
Goodmail Systems


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