Senders Protest AOL E-Mail Changes

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E-mail service providers and senders lashed out at AOL for promising to phase out its Enhanced Whitelist, which allows approved commercial e-mailers to send e-mails with links and images.


AOL said this week that it would stop the Enhanced Whitelist by June. Senders wanting messages containing links and images to get through would need to pay a fee -- not set, but a fraction of a cent per e-mail -- to add on Goodmail Systems' CertifiedEmail.


AOL's regular Whitelist will be unaffected.


"We're concerned about how it affects our customers' costs. And, if AOL makes their regular Whitelist rules so strict, how does this affect the end user?" asked Rob Wilson, vice president of technology at e-mail marketing firm Lyris Technologies, a subsidiary of J.L. Halsey, Emeryville, CA.


The fee is "astronomical," he said. "They're potentially going to spend more for getting through to AOL than they spend on their e-mail budget."


It's a step back for marketers who don't want to use Goodmail, Wilson said, adding that they'll just revert to text-only messages to AOL accounts.


"If I'm a marketer, the cost of my e-mail program just went up three times," said Bill Nussey, CEO of e-mail marketing firm Silverpop, Atlanta. "I'm spending a lot of my budget that I'm not spending on relevance, testing and other things."


Nussey and others think AOL will get too much sender and customer backlash to do away with its Enhanced Whitelist. AOL subscribers will start complaining when they are unable to view images and links in their e-mails as they did before, he said.


"I think they're putting this out on the marketplace to see how people react," he said. "It's about AOL subscribers ... and subscribers are best serviced when the Enhanced Whitelist is in place."


However, the typical ISP whitelist system will change, countered Richard Gingras, CEO of Goodmail, Mountain View, CA.


"Over 2006 ... we will see a dramatic reduction in how whitelists are used and privileges associated with whitelists," he said. "They are just not secure. They are regularly gamed [fooled]."


Yahoo and AOL started testing Goodmail's certification system, which aims to identify legitimate e-mail from spam, late last year. AOL is the first to roll out the program, but Yahoo is expected to follow in the second quarter.


"You know how important [links and images] are for people for their branding, so it is easy for recipients to recognize brands and remember that they have signed up for the newsletter," AOL postmaster Charles Stiles told DM News. "The problem is, we don't have the capability operationally to go in and review who is on the list."


Marketers on AOL's Enhanced Whitelist still don't get all their campaigns sent consistently because they may not have all IP addresses listed in the system.


"Some days you may get your links and images enabled, and other days you may not," Stiles said.


The CertifiedEmail system works by accrediting senders, ensuring they are who they say they are and reviewing their sending history.


"They will have to have a very good past sending behavior and will have to maintain a good sending behavior," Gingras said.


If approved, they can attach an "encrypted token" to their e-mails so Yahoo and AOL can identify the messages as CertifiedEmail.


On April 3, AOL will change the qualification criteria for the Enhanced Whitelist, reducing the number of IP addresses in the program. On June 30, it terminates Enhanced Whitelist privileges.


The Email Sender and Provider Coalition has been quiet on the controversy, opting instead to educate its members about the program.


"Generally, we have been supportive of authentication requirements," ESPC executive director Trevor Hughes said. "To the extent that it's consistent with those other programs, we would be supportive."


Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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