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Spam Cooking Over at Yahoo!, AOL

Spam is still a can of worms for Internet companies.

Yahoo! (YHOO) and Time Warner's (TWX) America Online now say they plan to charge senders for the bulk delivery of some emails. But critics of the plan abound.

Under the service Yahoo! and AOL envision, bulk email senders can choose to pay a fee ranging from one-quarter of a cent to 1 cent per message to have their email certified as legitimate. The stamp of approval will help users weed out unwanted messages and reduce network-taxing traffic, the companies say.

Yahoo! and AOL -- and Goodmail, the vendor that's providing the service -- say they are confident that they will be able to persuade skeptics of the value of the service. But some companies don't like the idea of paying for a service that currently costs them nothing.

"Having to pay an email provider to conduct legitimate business with a customer doesn't set a promising or productive precedent, and more importantly, doesn't appear to really benefit consumers," says Nicholas Utton, chief marketing officer of E*Trade (ET), in an email.

Spam is a vexing problem. Businesses send out emails to communicate with and market to customers, but people hate getting unwanted pitches for drugs, pornographic Web sites and get-rich quick schemes, among other things.

Filters that most large companies have on their internal email networks block communications that people want, which further aggravates users. In fact, people are getting so disgusted with spam that they aren't even opening huge emails like those from banks, says Goodmail chief Richard Gingras. He says many legitimate email messages fail to reach their intended users.

In the coming weeks, companies that rely on email to communicate with their customers are going to have to decide whether the service Yahoo! and AOL will offer is worth the trouble.

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