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Goodmail Jedi Mind Trick Backfires

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Goodmail CEO Richard Gingras appears to have employed the Jedi Mind Trick to convince the California Senate that AOL’s Goodmail arrangement was never about fighting spam and phishing. One imagines a room reduced to murmurs and page flipping as reporters dig through their notes from February.

Goodmail Jedi Mind Trick Backfires
Goodmail Blows Up

“To suggest that the introduction of CertifiedEmail is going to prevent spammers from sending spam or phishers from trying to phish — we have not said it, nor would any expert say it,” Gingras told California legislators last week.

A person that pays close attention to wording may analyze that statement on a semantic level and highlight the words “sending” and “trying.” But, as many have noted from the beginning, the AOL/Goodmail fiasco has been a fast-talking bonanza from the accused, who have insisted that what was said is not what they meant.

DM News quotes Sen. Dean Florez’ surprise at the statement:

“That’s what I thought was the selling point: that it was going to reduce spam and phishing,” said state Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat who chairs the state Senate Select Committee on E-Commerce, Wireless Technology and Consumer Driven Programming.

Indeed, that was certainly the impression people were given when AOL’s public relations nightmare began with a phantom statement (not statement, a memo) from AOL Postmaster Charles Stiles in late January.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham and Gingras spent weeks on the phone following the snafu, defending the Certified Email program (and denying what seemed apparent plans to charge for guaranteed delivery of bulk email). In light of the most recent comments, the two should consider getting together to get their stories straight.

The week before the hearing, Graham disagreed with Gingras. “As we get ready to testify at the hearing next week, we are also working diligently to protect our members’ safety and security by preparing implementation of the anti-spam, anti-phishing, CertifiedEmail program,” he said.

When questioned about that statement, Graham fell back on the old that’s-not-what-I-meant routine.

“We have never claimed that CertifiedEmail will end all spam; there is no magic silver bullet,” Graham told DM News.

What he meant to say was:

“It helps us increase e-mails of good, trusted, authenticated e-mail … and that’s what consumers want. If we can put an end to spoofs, scams and hoaxes by giving legitimate senders of e-mail a new path, a new way to send e-mail, we believe more phishers will give up and throw in the towel.”

So, CertifiedEmail is not meant to end spam and phishing, but is meant to end spam and phishing.

A quick review of statements made:

From the Phantom Memo:

AOL announced a partnership with Goodmail Systems in October 2005 to provide a CertifiedEmail premium delivery service – a new class of email that will help shield AOL Members from fraud and phishing.

From an interview with WebProNews:

“We have an email ecosystem with serious problems,” said Gingras. “If you have an open medium, bad actors are going to take advantage of this.” CertifiedEmail aims to address those problems.

Gingras estimated the spam and phishing schemes and storage cost AOL in the tens of millions of dollars a year, or an average of $8-12 per mailbox per year.

“What we offer goes far beyond what the EnhancedWhitelist has ever offered. Whitelists can be gamed all the time.”

Graham has been vigilant in labeling detractors of AOL’s CertifiedEmail implementation as purveyors of propaganda and misinformation, even if the misinformation seem to originate from AOL.

One of those spreading the misinformation Graham spoke of was perhaps MoveOn.org and their petition against the program signed by some 500 businesses, labor groups, non-profits, and citizens. The organization’s DearAOL campaign labeled the Goodmail arrangement an “email tax.”

MoveOn was very pointed in comments after the hearing. ClickZ blogger Kate Kaye accuses MoveOn of muddling the issue. MoveOn.org civil communications director, Adam Green, suggested to Kaye that Goodmail and AOL’s credibility is out the window.

“Goodmail was forced to admit publicly that AOL’s pay-to-send system would do nothing to prevent spam. Goodmail’s admission debunked one of the prime lies that AOL has been telling the media and the public for the last month, and blew a hole right through AOL’s credibility and every single promise they’ve made to the public in this debate. Their days of saying ‘trust us, we won’t hurt email’ are over – their trust is gone.”

Graham responded by saying Green was “making very selective, unreasonable charges.”

It’s true that this may indeed be a battle of semantics – a hedge that allows AOL and Goodmail to assert that how statements were interpreted was not the intention of their words.

But like the initial problem of the Phantom Memo, where everyone on God’s green earth but AOL interpreted it as a press release, everyone but Goodmail apparently interpreted the service as an antispam service.

Using the “we never said that” defense a second time is wearing a bit thin on those paying close attention, suggesting that the Jedi Mind Trick only works in the movies.

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