Up to now, to be eligible for Returnpath's Certification you "only" had to match an arm long list of best practices, such as having a clear and visible privacy agreement, not hitting too many spam traps, honey pots, not triggering too many complaints and so on...
Today, ReturnPath announced to its customers by email and on its blog that it will no longer accept to certify third party only senders (such as agencies, mega databases,...).
I can see plenty of very good reasons to shift their standards, it will probably legitimate their status of a high standards certification, the surprising thing is that they clearly announce that they will level down all third party senders to the "Safe" level. Moreover, a client that sends first and third party emails will not be able to certify all broadcasts.
The details for the new standards are available here.
Question now is: are the ReturnPath people ages ahead of the rest of the market, or are they just reacting to the natural evolution witnessed over the past 4 years (at least).
Maybe it's a bit of both:
It's quite new to see a certification program that ask more than good overall results and best practices matching to enter, but it has been a long term evolution among email marketers, database owners and internet companies that naturally lead to a hierarchy among (legitimate) broadcasts, from third party, up to transactional fully personalized emails.