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Goodmail Systems to deploy e-mail certification service

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Goodmail Systems last week announced it will deploy an e-mail certification service, a kind of e-mail “seal of approval,” on AOL and Yahoo!’s e-mail platforms. They are the first ISPs to adopt the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s CertifiedEmail service, which is designed to protect users from spam, fraud and phishing attempts.

The service involves placing a “trust symbol” in the e-mail that designates mail as certified. That enables it to bypass filters that often relegate legitimate e-mail to the spam pile.

Senders are charged a per-transaction fee, shared with Goodmail’s ISP partners. Users will start seeing certified e-mail by the end of 2005 or in early 2006, the company said.

“We’re creating a safe class of e-mail where the messages are categorically authenticated and safe for the user,” said Richard Gingras, chairman-CEO of Goodmail.

Gingras said the service addresses e-mail marketing’s pain points. “The two core issues in the e-mail environment are lack of e-mail delivery—even the best of messages get snared by filters—and second is the lack of user trust in incoming messages.”

In addition to the ISPs, StrongMail Systems, Port25 Solutions and Coldspark, all e-mail infrastructure software providers for e-mail senders, have agreed to incorporate Goodmail’s service into their products.

While industry stakeholders agree that e-mail’s problems continue to affect the industry, there is still disagreement over solutions. Authentication tools exist, developed with the ISPs, and certification and accreditation products such as Bonded Sender and Habeas also offer solutions to allow the e-mail marketplace to attempt to further legitimize mail.

Des Cahill, CEO of Habeas, said he thinks Goodmail’s new product is a bad idea because it allows spammers to buy a good reputation.

“It says to the sender, ‘There’s an easy way, and you don’t have to clean up your list,’ ” Cahill said. “For those who can afford it, you can buy your way into peoples’ in-boxes. It encourages sloppy e-mail practices.”

Gingras disagreed. “That is categorically false,” he said. “You have to be a legitimate entity. If a sender is properly following policies, maintaining good lists, then they will be fine and their privileges will be continued, but if their complaints are out of bounds, then they will lose their privileges,” he said.

Dave Lewis, VP-market development at Strongmail, said the industry is better served by working together and suggested there is room for everyone. “Habeas, Goodmail and Bonded Sender are all partners of ours,” he said. “I see Goodmail’s market entry and AOL and Yahoo! participation in [Goodmail’s] solution as significant validation. It’s validation of sender accountability as the right strategy to rid the channel of both abusive e-mail practices—spam, spoofing, phishing—and the irrational filters that today degrade both trust and reliability. It’s also validation that we’ve got momentum in implementing this strategy, particularly in light of the Direct Marketing Association’s recent mandate on authentication,” he said. “Our key challenge is to restore trust and reliability to e-mail. Both are crucial to the viability of the channel.”

Trevor Hughes, executive director of the E-mail Service Provider Coalition, agreed: “I think it’s always encouraging to see new and innovative solutions,” he said. However, Hughes cautioned it is too early to claim victory in the war on spam.

“There’s no silver bullet,” he said. “Spam is not going to be cleaned up with one broom. ... We need to start from a platform of accountability, and then move on to accreditation and reputation systems. Those things will give us a healthier e-mail ecosystem that draws brighter lines between those who are accountable for what they are sending and those who are not.”

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