Goodmail Systems CertifiedEmail: What is it, and why all the fuss?

Last month, AOL announced it was beginning to use a certified email system designed by Goodmail Systems.  Basically, the Goodmail solution attaches an encrypted token to business/marketing email from certified businesses.  When AOL sees the token, and validates it, the email is treated as a non-spam message.  The catch for the sender is a small fee per message.  The impact on AOL email users is an increase in email with no other purpose than the delivery of unsolicited marketing material.

In this article, I’ll explore how Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail works, what the implementation of this solution means to business, and what users of AOL email services can expect.

How CertifiedEmail Works 

According to Goodmail, “…CertifiedEmail is a comprehensive email certification platform that eliminates the uncertainties associated with email delivery and message safety” (http://www.goodmailsystems.com/certifiedmail/).  In other words, this solution is not designed to reduce the amount of spam received by Internet email users.  Instead, Goodmail claims it will allow the delivery of business mail (which many would call spam) while mitigating the risk of receiving malware or phishing email.

Figure 1, downloaded from the Goodmail web site, steps through the message certification process.

Goodmail Systems CertifiedMail  Figure 1 (click image to enlarge)

Enumerated steps in the image walk through the process Goodmail uses to deliver messages to its ISP Partners (i.e. AOL).  In essence, when the sender (business) wants to send a message to an AOL email subscriber, the Goodmail Imprinter calculates a message hash value.  It also requests a valid token from the Goodmail Generator.  Senders pay for the tokens.  The hash value and the token are attached to the message, which is sent to the receiver (AOL).  The receiver checks the token.  If the token is valid, the message is sent to the recipient’s mailbox.  If not, the message is run through the normal content and volume filters to determine if the message meets spam criteria.  Again, the sender pays for this spam-filter-bypass service. 

Businesses wishing to sign-up as authenticated, reputable senders must apply for and pass an accreditation process.  Prospective accredited senders must possess the following qualifications:

  • Have at least one year of verifiable business history
  • Have business headquarters in the United States or Canada
  • Must Transmit messages from dedicated IP addresses with a six month history of doing so
  • Must have a sending history with a complaint rate among the lowest of senders transmitting to Goodmail’s ISP partners
  • Must be able to comply with Goodmail’s Acceptable Use and Security Policy
  • Must agree to the Token Purchase Agreement

Business Benefit 

So what value can a business realize from accreditation?  According to Goodmail, marketing effectiveness is enhanced due to:

  • Assured email delivery – messages no longer pass through a receiver’s spam filters
  • Confirmation that a message was delivered
  • Invalid addresses identified
  • Accurate detailed reports

It’s not clear what affect this pay-as-you-go approach to email marketing will have on small businesses.  Small businesses without the working capital of large companies, with seemingly bottmless buckets of marketing cash, will be at an apparent disadvantage.  In the new model, if you have money your spam is not spam.  But if you can’t afford to pay, you’ll remain a spammer. 

Well, it looks like this is a great idea for big marketing companies.  But what about consumers?  What is the impact on personal mailboxes?

Impact on Consumers 

Spam filters are not just tools to keep out malware.  They also prevent personal mailboxes from filling with marketing and sales literature.  Without spam filtering, the time Internet mail users might spend going through their email looking for meaningful messages would significantly increase.  The following is a list of alleged consumer benefits from using a receiver (ISP Partner) that subscribes to the Goodmail service:

  • Consumers will have an improved email experience because they can differentiate CertifiedMail messages from others in the inbox.  OK, the marketing and sales email is filtered and marked.  But it doesn’t show up at all now.
  • Ability to easily identify, safely open, and respond to messages with confidence that the sender is legitimate.  I’ll admit, this has some value.  Opening only marketing or sales related messages marked as safe is a start on the road to solving phishing problems. 
  • Assurance that important messages they expect to receive will be delivered and not lost to spam filters.  Another good point.  But most email users are capable of checking spam folders for important messages to prevent losing messages due to false positives in the spam filter.  Once a trusted sender is identified, it’s pretty easy to add it to the trusted sender list.

Conclusion

Although there are obvious benefits to consumers, businesses will derive the most benefit from messages circumventing spam filters.  Email service providers like AOL should provide their subscribers with the ability to opt out of CertifiedEmail.  In fact, this should be the default setting for new mailbox configurations.  It hasn’t been that long ago that we began to prevent the large amounts of unwanted marketing information from intruding into our lives.  Let’s not take a step back. 

Author:  Tom Olzak

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