Dealing With Spam Is Just One of Many Costs of Doing Business

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This AOL-Goodmail saga seems to be a textbook study in shifting winds ("What's Behind AOL's About-Face Over Whitelist?" Feb. 13)! I see that today's reason for the deal is that "senders need to share the costs of fighting spam with ISPs," according to Richard Gingras, CEO of Goodmail. Surprise: AOL agrees, and points out that it has "generously provided a free whitelist and enhanced free whitelist service" for years.

Back in the days of Steve Case, I would have fallen from my chair after reading that comment in the press. Generously? The new AOL seems to see itself as a sponsor, a benefactor of companies that communicate by e-mail. AOL's financial performance is no longer what it used to be, and now the generous sponsor wants to cut down on subsidies. The beneficiaries are whining, but that was to be expected. It is time to share AOL's costs, not because it makes sense, but because it would be convenient for AOL.

Around 95 percent of people connect to the Internet to get e-mail. E-mail is central to people's Internet experience, and of course they expect it to work. Spam filters, whitelists and so on are like mail servers and data centers - tools to achieve these customer expectations, on penalty of seeing customers take their business elsewhere. And tools cost money.

L-Soft probably spends a larger fraction of its revenues fighting spam than AOL does, and yet you won't hear me suggest that it is time for ISPs to share the costs that senders incur to fight spam. Spam is just one of the many costs of doing business, and far from the largest. AOL's attempts to single out that cost and send the bill to legitimate opt-in senders show a distorted view of the industry. They are barking at the wrong tree, for the wrong reasons.

Eric Thomas, CEO, L-Soft

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