Fighting the AOL/Yahoo email \"tax\"

Cory Doctorow, technocrat extraordinaire over at Boing Boing, wants me to "Fight AOL/Yahoo's email tax!" Well, I am fighting it, Cory! I'm fighting it by handling my own email and not letting some huge corporation handle my email for me.

Calling the proposal a "tax" is obviously intended to imply that somehow these companies are monopolistic in nature, that they coerce their customers in some way, like a government. Well, I'll grant you that changing one's email address is a pain in the butt and most people don't really know how to set up their own mail domain, but that's hardly the fault of AOL and Yahoo. If you really want to fight these sorts of proposals, start a company that helps give people email independence.

I should point out that Hotmail has done exactly what AOL and Yahoo are proposing from the very beginning, in the form of their "WebCourier" program, and in fact WebCourier was always a major part of Hotmail's business plan. After the Microsoft acquisition, when advertising shifted to be only Microsoft-related, it was in fact Hotmail's only source of revenue. They have never had any incentive at all to prevent legitimate bulk mail from going into users' junk folders and in fact they have favored filtering techniques that erred in that direction. Ask a mailing list provider about Hotmail's response when they approached Hotmail about being whitelisted. Far from being bad for Hotmail's users, this is simply one of the tradeoffs people make in exchange for free (or cheap) email: obtrusive ads or the annoyance of having legit bulk mail go into your bulk folder the first time you receive it. Oh yeah, I should also point out that neither of these providers has mentioned eliminating personal whitelists, so this is really not a change from the status quo. Nor are they likely to allow emailers with antisocial mailing list management practices to sign up or at least stay signed up; they hardly want to be losing customers just for the business of one lousy spammer.

On the other hand, the post office delivers a ton of crap I don't want to my mailbox just to subsidize their money-losing third-class mail delivery service, so maybe Cory has a point when he says this will make AOL and Yahoo mail "as good as postal mail." The difference is that I'm forced to be a customer of the USPS, but I have a choice about whether to do business with Yahoo and AOL. Cory, help me get the post office shut down!

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If Yahoo was like the post

If Yahoo was like the post office they would be charging MORE for junk-mail rather than less. If the post office starting charging bulkmail senders more (I'd even settle for the same as) regular mail I think we would all be better off.

Sean- pressuring

Sean-
pressuring corporations to change is remarkably important to the functioning of markets as I see it. Why shouldn't we tell microsoft not make this move? Why shouldn't we let them know where we stand on the issue so they can change their minds? This move will hurt social movements, and is a step toward regulating the internet and making it less free. I don't care if the regulation is done my a coporation or a state- it's still regulation. Chaneg the title of CEO to "secretary general", board of directors to "politboro" and shareholders to "the party" and you've got a USSR totalitairan dictatorship- regulation sfrom them are no more tolrable than any other state regulations.

Matt

Matt, I think confusing

Matt, I think confusing corporations with governments confuses coercion, i.e. putting a gun to someone's head, with having something someone else wants. Someone once tried to convince me that I was "forcing" them to leave a message on my answering machine by screening my calls. That kind of confusion, in my opinion, is best avoided.

It's a great idea to let firms know how you feel, but using language that implies that the corporation is using force damages the cause of freedom. One might just say that if I want to add a story to my house I'm exacting a "sunlight tax" from my neighbors, or if I don't give money to every beggar I'm charging them a "homelessness tax." Where does it end?

This sort of action can also have some really negative unintended results. I remember when I was learning about configuring ATM circuits (think dialup only much faster and permanent), we were encouraged not to ever allow users to use more bandwidth than they were allotted even if the bandwidth was available. The reason? Users see the reduction in available bandwidth as network usage starts to approach capacity, even if the network is not oversold, as a reduction in service level, even though they were actually getting extra "free" bandwidth before. Likewise, companies thinking about possibly one day charging to be whitelisted will think twice about *ever* allowing free whitelisting. If free whitelisting is never allowed, what's to complain about? This would be, in fact, what Hotmail intelligently did from the beginning.

Matt, you should also not

Matt, you should also not forget that Yahoo and AOL's networks are private property that they can use however the heck they want. In fact, very little if any of the Internet is actually public property in any sense. What would you be saying if AOL simply decided to close up shop? Should they be forced to stay open? I think few people would claim that we would be better off if AOL closed up shop than we would if we "allow" them to charge for the service of whitelisting.

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[...] bsp;    posted by dff Somebody’s favorite person is making an ass of himself again: Cory Doctorow, technocrat extrao [...]

I'm with Sean on this one.

I'm with Sean on this one. I don't necessarily have a problem with these sorts of business practices, but that doesn't mean I'm going to subject myself to them. I have my own website hosting, and have email configured through that.

I was enticed to change when I started to realize just how much Microsoft tries to make Hotmail incompatible with FireFox. Not that it was anything overt, but little hiccups here or there that didn't show up in Explorer. So rather than ditch FireFox, I think I can go elsewhere for my email support.

Besides, I feel much cooler with an email address that's @warbiany.com anyway :beatnik:

Sean- it's an important size

Sean- it's an important size distinction that you make between corporation s and people. You're quite right about the sunlight tax. However if AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft all enact this tax it's not much different than a gov't enacting it. In fact, not different at all. The size of affected people will be nation-level, the choice offered will be the same (if you don't like it then leave) and the agency of action will be roughly the same (unaccountable represenatatives making isolated decisions.) If regulations and restrictions on freedom are bad, then they're bad no matter who's doing it.

Matt

Matt, I think you're

Matt, I think you're resorting to analogy excessively. "Leaving" Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo doesn't involve moving out of your home. It just means either using a different company for your email or setting up your own domain and server. If I could set up my own country or change countries without having to leave my home, I'd be pretty darned happy about it.

As for unaccountable representatives making decisions that affect large numbers of people, I think that firms would tend to be *much* smaller in a society that didn't believe in positive rights due to the fact that the incentives firms have to be very large would not exist and the inefficiencies of having decision makers so far removed from the front lines would make competiting as a large firm impossible.

Sean we're arguing the size

Sean we're arguing the size issue on another thread actually, so you're welcome to chime in over there. Suffice it to say that I'm unconvinced that competition would solve the size problem. I'm not trying to make an analogy about the corporations and the state, I'm trying to make a simple point: if you care about freedom (or MSD) then you care about freedom. There's nothing magic that says only states are bad when they restrict freedom- the real classicalal liberals should be suspicious of all things which would conspire to limit man's freedom. I see this as a good example of how corporate size has given rise to a situation of power not unlike a totalitarian state.

Matt, You're forgetting

Matt,

You're forgetting the fact that this "tax" (which is paid by spammers, not by users) is a function of the services offering users free email accounts. AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN could just start charging users $5/month for email. Nobody is forcing them to provide free email accounts. They're looking for revenue streams (ad revenue, paid whitelisting for spam) outside those of forcing users to pay for the bandwidth.

All they're doing is offering marketing companies a pass behind their spam filters. I don't particularly like it, but it's just another way to force you to see those advertisements as a condition for accepting the "free" email account.

Matt, I suggest you look

Matt, I suggest you look into gmail. It is free and doesn't do that. If there are no other corporations left that do not offer free-passes, then I suggest doing the following:
Buy another computer, get a router for your home to go with a cable modem, sign up at http://www.dyndns.com/ for free so your house can be something like "matt.homeip.net" then set-up the server running linux and an E-Mail server, and start issuing E-Mail accounts. It would be along the lines of "matt27@matt.homeip.net" You can earn money through add revenue or simply charge for an account.

Try doing this to avoid a government tax and see how far you get.

You’re forgetting the

You’re forgetting the fact that this “tax” (which is paid by spammers, not by users)

Mass political movements will also be harmed which is a major delimma.

is a function of the services offering users free email accounts. AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN could just start charging users $5/month for email. Nobody is forcing them to provide free email accounts. They’re looking for revenue streams (ad revenue, paid whitelisting for spam) outside those of forcing users to pay for the bandwidth.

They could do that. Does actual emailing cost them any money, aside from the storage space used? I'm genuinely curious.

All they’re doing is offering marketing companies a pass behind their spam filters. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s just another way to force you to see those advertisements as a condition for accepting the “free” email account.

right, so we won't see much less spam, only spam that has money behind it. And the ACLUs weekly updates will effectively cease for about half of those recieving it.

Matt, I suggest you look into gmail. It is free and doesn’t do that. If there are no other corporations left that do not offer free-passes, then I suggest doing the following:

I have gmail.

Try doing this to avoid a government tax and see how far you get.

well thanks for the info, and I'd say you're right that taxes like this aren't quite as insidious because they can be avoided. but there's no question that many people, for various reasons, will not do this and will cease getting mass political emails. I don't care if there's an argument that proves the technical possibility of people avoiding this tax- we know what the effects will be, why should we care about anything else? You can avoid many government taxes by simply setting up a tax shelter and incorporating your business- does that mean taxes are okay? The simple fact is most people can't/won't do that, so again, what else matters?

Matt

well thanks for the info,

well thanks for the info, and I'd say you're right that taxes like this aren't quite as insidious because they can be avoided. but there's no question that many people, for various reasons, will not do this and will cease getting mass political emails. I don't care if there's an argument that proves the technical possibility of people avoiding this tax- we know what the effects will be, why should we care about anything else? You can avoid many government taxes by simply setting up a tax shelter and incorporating your business- does that mean taxes are okay? The simple fact is most people can't/won't do that, so again, what else matters?

Ummm, how about the right of people to do what they want with their own property? There is no obligation on the part of any email provider to deliver bulk emails to the inbox of their customers. There is only the obligation to carry out their end of their contracts with their customers or face the consequences if they don't.

Your argument has also been used by spammers who have taken email providers to court to try to prevent them from filtering mail. Oh my gosh, spammers will lose money! How terrible! The servers of Yahoo and AOL belong to the stockholders of Yahoo and AOL. We can talk about potential changes in corporate law or limited liability, but if it's private property then they can do what they want with it as long as they aren't interfering with the negative rights of others.

If you are merely saying they "shouldn't" do this and aren't asking for government to step in, well, I won't argue with you. I really don't care if people want to try to organize a boycott or blog negative things about them or whatever, as long as they don't try to use force. I won't participate because I don't really care, because if their customers don't care enough about the ability of various groups to propagandize them to check their junk folder occasionally and add the groups to their personal whitelists (or switch to a different provider), I really question the value of propagandizing such people in the first place.

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[...] Filed under: General — John Bell @ 1:27 pm Perm Link Via Catallarchy, “Fighting the AOL/Yahoo email “tax”“: “ [...]

The reason that spam is

The reason that spam is economically inefficient for the world is that the sender of the spam does not pay for the huge majority of the cost of sending it. The cost is bourne on ISPs which provide bandwidth that is abused by virus-infected computers, and by the companies that run mail servers that receive all of this spam.

Junk snail mail, on the other hand, is largely paid for by the senders, thus is sent in far less quantities with better targeting, and imposes little cost on its recipients. This is a net positive for the economy, as companies can promote their goods, but only do so if it the promotion is more valuable than the cost of sending it out.

By creating a class of email which is paid bulk mail, you can create something similar to bulk USPS mail in email. Granted, the current goals for AOL/Yahoo are on a much smaller scope, just to handle transaction mails like the sort you might get from your bank.