Are Yahoo! and AOL profiting from spam?

This week came news of a plan by Yahoo! and AOL to offer a new service where companies can pay up to a cent an email to ensure that their messages are delivered and don’t get snaffled by any over aggressive spam filters.

The companies say that the move will help them cut down on the amount of junk and phishing emails but, of course, it could also become a significant revenue generator for the companies concerned.

The question has to be asked: is it right that these companies should potentially profit from the spam menace?

It is interesting to note that Yahoo! is also in Spamhaus’ top 10 “Worst Spam Service ISPs”. So, by not being strict enough on spammers, Yahoo! is helping, in a small way, to fuel a problem, to which it has now rather niftily come up with a solution, the catch being that companies will have to bear the cost.

I’m sure the Yahoo! and AOL will argue that they have made progress in the spam fight and that some of the revenue raised can be diverted towards attacking spam on other fronts.

There are those in the spam industry that view Yahoo! and AOL's plans as dangerous precedent. Richard Cox, CIO at anti-spam organisation Spamhaus, says that the move “will destroy the spirit of the Internet”.

In a news report at Silicon Cox goes on to say: "The internet has become what it is because of freedom of communication. Open discussion is what gives it value. There should be no cost for particular services, and email should be free and accessible to all. This will disenfranchise people."

Meanwhile, John Mozena, spokesperson for the antispam group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail (CAUCE), has likened it to a kind of extortion: "Pay up and your e-mail doesn't get hurt."

Yahoo! and AOL’s attempt to change the economics of email by creating a new class of email delivery, mirrors attempts by US telecoms giants such as AT&T and Verizon to create tiered Internet where content providers would be charged for preferential delivery of their content and services.

Slowly but surely the free Internet as we know it is coming under attack.