AOL’s Email Tax

I’m sure we’ve all seen a copy of that infamous forwarded email titled “Government to Start Charging 5 Cents Per Email!” – or something equally inflammatory. In said email, the user was instructed to forward the message to his/her friends and upon completion of this task be blessed with good luck, bigger penis, better teeth, easily obtained prescription pharmaceuticals or whatever.

So, imagine my surprise when I first heard about AOL’s proposed switch to CertifiedEmail – a move that will allow senders to pay for their emails to bypass AOL’s spam filtration system.

How exactly is this a measure to *stop* spam? Isn’t it conceivable that a spammer would pay to send out their drivel? Further, what does this say about AOL and their role as a tech company? Why can’t an ISP with a subscriber base of over 20 million people make better spam filters?

The part that is most infuriating about this, is that the average AOL subscriber (I’m talking to you, middle-American red-states) probably won’t understand what this means, and why it’s bad for the internet.

The very foundation of the internet is built from the concepts of openness and equality – the idea that everyone has the same voice. This is the exact opposite. This is making it possible for some of the voices to be heard better and more clearly – but for a price. The point has been made that if AOL can make money with CertifiedEmail, then they’ll have little incentive to fix or maintain normal email, laden with spam as it is, on which they would actually be spending money. This is scary, scary stuff.

Over 20 million people (all of whom incidentally, pay between $10 and $25 a month for the use of this second-rate connection to the internet) will be part of a historically pivotal traffic control experiment, and they probably don’t even know it.

My hope is that this will be a colossal failure for AOL, both in practice, and in terms of their (already heavily eroded) public image. Sadly, I have a feeling it will only make the internet less open, and cost more money.

So, I urge any of you out there in internet-land, AOL subscriber or not, to sign the petition. It may already be too late, given AOL’s recent statement of determination, but your voice still matters.

Or, at the very least, consider switching carriers.

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