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AOL Allegedly Censors 'Email Tax' Opponents

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the dirty-pool dept.

Censorship 162

Mediacitizen writes "AOL was accused yesterday of censoring email to AOL customers that included a link to a site opposing AOL's proposed 'email tax.' Over 300 people reported that they had tried sending AOL subscribers messages that contained a link to www.DearAOL.com, but received a bounceback message informing them that their email 'failed permanently.' After the DearAOL.com Coalition -- 600 organizations convened by Free Press, MoveOn and EFF -- notified the press of this blocking, AOL quickly cleared the opposition URL from their filters, alleging a 'software glitch.'"

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162 comments

AOL alienating its customers... (5, Interesting)

Komarechka (967622) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129686)

"software glitch"? Right. That's the most pathetic attempt at damage control I've seen in quite a while. I do agree that something has to be done about unwanted e-mails that keep flooding my inbox (my main e-mail address gets about 300 such e-mails a day) but AOL is driving down a road that will further alienate them from their users. By pulling stunts like this, they clearly demonstrate their motives as benefiting themselves and not the customers.

This does not bode well for the acceptance of e-mail tax. As if the general public wasn't against it in the first place.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15129718)

Not that I want to make AOL look good, but it's possible that it really was unintentional. Did anyone try sending a URL like www.AOLPayment.com or something? It may have been a method to prevent phishing by blocking all emails that contain domains with the text "AOL" in caps or something.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (2, Informative)

DaggertipX (547165) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130026)

That's the first thing I thought as well. I worked for AOL Support several years ago (nearly the worst job on this planet, although they were actually pretty good to their employees) - and phishing was a very big concern, and something they were trying to implement a plan for even back then. I frequently had people call in having troubles with the "AOL Payment forms you guys sent me a link to" - not realizing they were giving everything up to and including their SSN to some mob thug overseas. I wouldn't be shocked at all if this hit a spam filter for this reason. Then again, maybe I'm wrong and they really didn't like what the site had to say. *shrug*

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (2, Informative)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129775)

By pulling stunts like this, they clearly demonstrate their motives as benefiting themselves and not the customers.

Because you had doubts? AOL is a for-profit organization, not a charity. Corporations do the most heinous, immoral things if they can get away with it. When they can't get away with it, they don't do it, not because they're afraid to look bad, but because it displeases customers and therefore hurts the bottomline.

In short: it's all about money.

Urge everyone to Cancel their AOL subscription (3, Informative)

UseFree.org (950344) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130447)

Now is the time to cancel your AOL subscription [frontcourt.com] !

It IS a software glitch (3, Funny)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129790)

If you consider the AOL's CEO's brain as "software" :P

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (4, Insightful)

mrowton (828923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129822)

Gmail would obviously never do this. I don't *think hotmail or yahoo would either. As users get more educated about webmail and spam then they will start making more intelligent decisions over who handles their e-mail. So in a way I'm glad AOL is doing this. Its just going to speed up the process of natural selection and webmail providers.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (5, Insightful)

crackerjack911 (49510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129852)

Well, what about the benefit of the doubt in cases like this.

AOL has to protect its members from all sorts of attacks, and included in these are phishing and URL redirection that often come from email solicitation. AOL could simply have had a filter that would not link to anything with AOL in the URL except from specific sources (you see where I'm going with this ...).

Sure, there is always an air of Big Brother and evil corporations trying to oppress something ... but its not always the case.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (3, Insightful)

keraneuology (760918) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129861)

AOL is driving down a road that will further alienate them from their users

Do you think any significant quantity of AOL's users care about things like this? There are two and only two things that will get AOL's attention: legislation/legal action or if really popular websites started to block AOL users from using their services. If MySpace blocked all traffic from AOL users until AOL scrapped their email tax and fired the person who blocked this email then (after the necessary lawsuits which AOL would ultimately lose) AOL would fire the person responsible for blocking these emails (or at least a very public scapegoat) and would scrap the email tax.

Ain't gonna happen though.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130679)

You're absolutely wrong. Legislation and legal approaches are entirely inappropriate. The only morally just and ethical approach is to let the market figure this out on its own. AOL is a provider of service. If the customers are happy with the service they receive then they (AOL) will stay in business. If they fail to make their customers happy then they will go out of business. No legal crap necessary. Remember, the fact that you have an email account with Gmail means nothing to AOL. You aren't their customer. Nor can you force them to accept your emails. It is, after all, their email servers, their bandwidth, their infrastructure and their customers. How do you know that their customers don't want this kind of feature?

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (3, Funny)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130078)

"software glitch"? Right. That's the most pathetic attempt at damage control I've seen in quite a while.

Come on, this is AOL we're talking about. I could actually believe it is a software glitch.

Note, I said "could".

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130151)

What makes you think the 'general public' knows ANYTHING about this?
AOL knows they can get away with stuff like this because the vast majority of their user base is not the slightest bit informed about things like this.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130226)

> This does not bode well for the acceptance of e-mail tax.

Especially when there isn't such a tax to begin with. Goodmail is no different than Habeas or Bonded Sender, or any of the other whitelist schemes. If you have some privileged knowledge about what AOL is doing with the default disposition of non-Goodmail-branded mail, then by all means share it. What one marketing wonk said months ago has been retracted over and over, and I suspect that the default disposition is going to be pretty much the same as it always has been.

I say just let AOL roll the damn thing out. Even if it is a tax, it's a tax only on their own customers. Unlike the "tiered internet" which really could happen as a result of collusion, SMTP ain't going away and anyone with a spare box can toss together a mail service these days.

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (3, Funny)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130299)

That's the most pathetic attempt at damage control I've seen in quite a while.

You have to give them a credit. They did not say "dog ate the line from /etc/hosts".

Disclaimer. My filter is set to Funny:-6

Re:AOL alienating its customers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130654)

Actually, since AOL gets a hell of a lot of phishing attempts, filtering mails that contain a URL with "AOL" in it is probably normal.

This is no glitch this is normal.

Life sucks, buy a helmet.

Opposing Opinion (5, Interesting)

WebHostingGuy (825421) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129695)

From the article: "Left to their own devices, AOL will always put its own self interest ahead of the public interest."

Well, yeah, no kidding. Since when did the "public interest" pay AOL for anything? Unless there is a law which says AOL cannot filter its "own" servers, too bad. It is AOL's right to do anything like this it wants to.

Is this the best thing to do? Obviously not, however don't be shocked when it does happen. Unless you control your own email completely (from the ISP right down to the server) you are relying on someone else. And that someone else ultimately has their interests in mind before yours.

Now, do some companies care about your interest? Sure, but they are not going to place your interest above theirs, otherwise they will be out of business. Supressing propangda which might cost you money; I don't think any business wouldn't consider that; and most, if not all, would try it.

Re:Opposing Opinion (2, Interesting)

kisrael (134664) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129847)

Well, yeah, no kidding. Since when did the "public interest" pay AOL for anything? Unless there is a law which says AOL cannot filter its "own" servers, too bad. It is AOL's right to do anything like this it wants to.

I'm not a legal expert, but is there any "common carrier" issue here? An implication that if they start censoring to suit their own purposes, they might end up being responsible for illegal activities that might happen to use their mail servers?

I guess it's kind of thorny, because a logical extension of that would be that any server tha provides spam filtering could also then be expected to filter *everything*. But still, there's definately something kind of scary censorship wise when the mail server starts acting so partisan...

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129981)

> is there any "common carrier" issue here?

I think there is, but the resolution is not (currently) in favor of the consumer. For some reason, the companies that have the big bucks had a bigger voice in the Telecommuncations Bills than the consumers. Why is that?

Lessig had some typically apt comments [lessig.org] .

Re:Opposing Opinion (0, Offtopic)

IdleTime (561841) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130093)

You asked "Why is that?"
Because we live in a corrupt country where, if you have enough money, can buy every politician all the way up to and including the president. He, GWB, is already owned by Saudi Arabia and Halliburton, so you know he cares as much about you and me, as he cares about a fart in the wind.

Re:Opposing Opinion (0, Offtopic)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130131)

Clinton did the same sort of things...

Face it - both sides are corrupt as hell.

Re:Opposing Opinion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130309)

Stop pretending to be 'fair and balanced' shit stain. We all know that you are not.

Re:Opposing Opinion (0, Offtopic)

jthill (303417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130322)

Clinton started a war as cover for throwing trillions of our tax dollars at his friends?

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

Tweekster (949766) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130041)

Censoring and filtering (aka SPAM) are a bit of a different situation... you could provide spam filtering services and not be considered censoring (well besides by the actual spammers) But censoring because you disagree with the content, particularly when that content is about you.

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

kisrael (134664) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130122)

Well, the difference between censoring and filtering might not be THAT clean cut if you're trying to take a completely fair stance about it.

Spammers are spammers because of their tactics, and the more they have to bend over backwards to ply their vile trade and included deceptive things to try to break through people who clearly don't want to listen to them, the easier the distinction is to make. The bulk nature of what they do is also a big signal.

And as you imply, filtering a specific message about yourself or someone you have a relaationship with is a big can of worms, and I think deserving of special attention from regulators.

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

Holi (250190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130099)

In short no, AOL is not anything like a common carrier, they provide a private network that has connections to the internet. AOL is even less of a Common Carrier then your typical ISP, which is also *NOT* considered a common carrier. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Re:Opposing Opinion (2, Insightful)

benjjj (949782) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129968)

Suppressing "propaganda"? Since when is a website set up by a group of people attempting to provide a counterpoint to a massive commercial spin campaign "propaganda"? You've got it backwards. AOL is the propagandist.

That sentence about the "public interest" is misleading, as well. Sure, AOL doesn't need the public interest in the way an elected official does, but if you replace " the public interest" with "demand" (both are "what the people want"), I think the irrationality of AOL's actions becomes clear. People depend on email, and they expect it to be at least as reliable as snail mail. If AOL is censoring random emails without telling customers what keywords to avoid, people will never know if their emails get through, and will, if they're smart, flee AOL en masse.

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130243)

Well, yeah, no kidding. Since when did the "public interest" pay AOL for anything? Unless there is a law which says AOL cannot filter its "own" servers, too bad. It is AOL's right to do anything like this it wants to.

Of course, the logical conclusion to your argument is that we can't expect to have common standards for anything, ever. Apparently any company will break those standards when it's short-term profitable to do so, and those situations will occur frequently. Therefore we can't expect to maintain open standards for intercommunication, or data formats, or even standardized screws or sockets.

If companies are as free and likely to damage the public interest as you claim, then the only response is... apparently we need to pass some new laws to prevent that. Too bad, I would've preferred corporate entities to continue doing business like good corporate citizens.

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130244)

Is this the best thing to do? Obviously not, however don't be shocked when it does happen. Unless you control your own email completely (from the ISP right down to the server) you are relying on someone else. And that someone else ultimately has their interests in mind before yours.

I don't trust them to act out of the goodmess of their hearts. I trust them because I'm paying them, we have a contract. If AOL isn't giving their customers the working inboxes email they are paying them for, surely there's a simple solution called a class action lawsuit?

Re:Opposing Opinion (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130520)

Supressing propangda which might cost you money; I don't think any business wouldn't consider that; and most, if not all, would try it.

Unfortunately you are correct. The big problem that comes of that is that it puts a very convincing argument into the hands of people who advocate for draconian rules regulating business.

The internet is a public network with private components. Anyone who attempts to assert too much control over that is asking to get whacked with the big stick of legislation.

LK

Re:Opposing Opinion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130674)

Well, yeah, no kidding. Since when did the "public interest" pay AOL for anything? Unless there is a law which says AOL cannot filter its "own" servers, too bad. It is AOL's right to do anything like this it wants to.

There was a time when corporations were only allowed to exist for the "public interest".

Yadda, yadda, yadda (1)

Britz (170620) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130738)

Not a big deal you think, they should control their own servers? That's the first thing I thought would come from Slashdot. But actually that is a pretty big deal right there. If ISPs start to regulate email in their interes using content filters where do we get? How about they sell this "feature" to other companies for marketing purposes. For better damage control in cases like this one. The more we rely on that kind of communication the more sensetive should we be about sensorship. How about your ISP filters what you comment on Slashdot?

(I hope this comment gets through my ISP's filter)

Software Glitch? Yeah right. (1, Funny)

samspock (762514) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129699)

And I'm the Easter Bunny.

Re:Software Glitch? Yeah right. (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129756)

OMG!!! OMG!!! Samspock, you're coming by my house on Sunday, right? The kids are gonna love the eggs!

Re:Software Glitch? Yeah right. (0)

TheOtherChimeraTwin (697085) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129780)

Ooohh, I'm glad I caught you today. I'd like more chocolate, and less of that other candy. Except peeps, peeps rule. And forget those hardboiled chicken eggs. Yuck!

The future of "free speech" (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129712)

Is now.

 

Re:The future of "free speech" (1)

WebHostingGuy (825421) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129772)

Don't you really mean the future of free speech was last week? It's time has already past. We are under the oppression of dictators like ...

[automatically interrupted/edited by AOL software]
[AOL, the future is here]
[Do you have AOL broadband? Try now!]
[AOL is my friend]
[This post and all future posts and all content are now owned by AOL]
[Copyright (c) 1984 AOL/Time Warner All your rights are ours]

Re:The future of "free speech" (1)

goldspider (445116) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129842)

I bet you could go to another ISP if you suspect that they are filtering your e-mail. Just a hunch.

Re:The future of "free speech" (3, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130002)

It is, if you exercise your right of free speech by going to the web site http://www.dearaol.com/ [dearaol.com] and signing the petition. The idea that spammers can pay a fraction of a cent to bypass spam filters is as bad as the games the phone company plays with unlisted numbers and caller ID.

You get caller ID

Telemarketing company pays extra to block caller ID on all outbound calls

You pay extra for an unlisted number

Telemarketing company pays extre for list of unlsted numbers

You pay for call block

Telemarketing company pays to bypass call block

Re:The future of "free speech" (2, Interesting)

TheHawke (237817) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130149)

State and Federal laws are quite clear on the fact that telemarketers CANNOT block their caller ID from showing up on a display or they would face a severe penalty.
I've actually tried calling some of the caller ID #'s that have shown up that are a telemarketing contractor or subcontractor and wound up with either a dead-end recording or a busy signal.

So CID #'s are next to useless in the immediate time being, only worthwhile to a person putting together a lawsuit agianst the joker that stacks call upon call upon call to the poor customer.

Re:The future of "free speech" (2, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130470)

The problem is a lot of telemarketers call from jurisdictions where that's not enforceable - hence the reason you'll see boiler rooms in Montreal buying long distance in bulk. Dirty rat bastards.

Re:The future of "free speech" (1)

cultrhetor (961872) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130232)

To paraphrase Stanley Fish, there ain't no such thing as free speech, and it's a good thing. Take a look. [blogspot.com]

People still use AOL?!?! (2)

gasmonso (929871) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129717)

I remember when AOL was useful, back in the dialup BBS days. But seriously... why would anyone in their right mind still use AOL? The fact that they still survive is absolutely impressive. There is no need for AOL. If you use it, just stop and go with another provider.

http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]

Nah, Compuserve was better (1)

WebHostingGuy (825421) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129825)

In those days all the content in the world was located at Compuserve. They had the user base, the content but could not keep up. It was a sad day when they were folded into the big machine.

Re:People still use AOL?!?! (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129886)

I remember when AOL was useful, back in the dialup BBS days.

You have a good memory. I can't remember AOL being useful ever, if you exclude the free diskettes. Back in the days, even Compuserve was a preferable option...

Re:People still use AOL?!?! (3, Insightful)

MrFrank (261142) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129932)

AOL has their customers lost in a blizzard. Most of their customers don't know what the "internet" is. They just use the AOL GUI for all their browsing and email. Like my sister in-law who pays $21.95/month for dial up service. She's just used to AOL. She likes the nice little portal uses to dial up.

I've tried to get her to move off. USfamily.net is $8.25/month. I would think saaving a single mom with a 16 year old $13/month would be a good thing.

AOL isn't marketing to the /. crowd. Look at their commercials. They want the suburban soccer mom who thinks the internet is a big bad place, and only AOL can protect them and their kids.

Oh, and she doesn't want to take any chance at loosing her AOL ID. She has given it out to all of her chat buddies.

Re:People still use AOL?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130055)

While I agree, I have to say [and I feel dirty by saying so] that I am glad that AOL is around for one simple reason: AOL Instant Messenger. Not because I have a particular liking for the program or protocol (I actually use GAIM [http://gaim.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] but because EVERYONE in my age bracket uses it. Or as close to "everyone" as is reasonable to say -- at my university and every other where computers are prevalent... which is every university!

Though there are better things to use, AIM is so simple that non-tech savvy high school and college students can use it with ease, and its user base is massive. Even when I graduate and enter the workforce I suspect that people of my generation will continue to use it for as long as it is around, and it this role as a "universal" communication device that makes it so valuable.

Picking up chicks (0, Offtopic)

Nightspirit (846159) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130134)

Honestly I picked up way more girls through AOL IM via profile searches and local chats that I did other methods. Although that was when I was a teen, I guess now it would just be creepy.

Re:People still use AOL?!?! (3, Interesting)

peragrin (659227) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130419)

I will probably get flamed for this.

A large section of the population are idiots. These people can't figure out how to work a thermostat let alone the internet.

My boss is amoung them. I enjoy working for her, but we have been trying to wean her off AOL ever since work got a DSL line. That's right the company has a DSL line and spends whatever a month just for her AOL. She is the only one who wants it. She get's confused whenever we try to hide it on her. Heck she gets confused whenever we make minor changes.

As I said i do enjoy working for her(the side benefits aren't bad for the job) but she can't figure out how to download a file, or where to find it once it was downloaded. Those Concepts are above her head, and will always be that way.

so for her AOL is good. It's safe, and everything is in one place for her to use.

Re:People still use AOL?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130553)

"There is no need for AOL"

YOU FOOL... AOL has always and will always be useful, how else would we have had enough free CD's in order to make a full coaster set????

Brand name! (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130697)

It's the brand name. AOL has been around for a very long time.

Large corporations engage in unfair practices (-1, Troll)

RLiegh (247921) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129723)

Film At 11.

How do they do this? (0, Flamebait)

mrowton (828923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129737)

How can AOL possibly still be around? They get bad press from doing something stupid on a weekly basis. It boggles the mind that this company can keep any customers.

Re:How do they do this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15129831)

How can AOL possibly still be around? They get bad press from doing something stupid on a weekly basis. It boggles the mind that this company can keep any customers.


And now you know why Libertarianism works about as well as communism...

Re:How do they do this? (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129940)

Surely you're not familiar with how hard it is to cancel an AOL account, then. They'll continue to bill you for months, and generally you'll have to block payment after they go to your CC.

Stupid, but legal (3, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129740)

No law says they cant filter out what ever they want too, as long as they publsh the list to their subscribers ( and that may not be required, but good practice ) We aernt talking a goverment here. there is no 'censorship' clause..

Re:Stupid, but legal (1)

fusto99 (939313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129817)

It may not be "illegal" but it doesn't mean that it still can't look bad for them. If they kept the filter on, it would probably end up hurting them more than just removing it and saying "oops".

Time for AOL users to kick off the training wheels (2, Insightful)

SuperNinjaMonkey (966376) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129794)

if they don't like it. Otherwise AOL is well within their rights to do as they wish. AOL is a private network. Let the consumer vote with their dollars.

Re:Time for AOL users to kick off the training whe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130410)

By that logic, there was no justification whatsoever for invading Iraq, since quite clearly the Iraqi people would have deposed Saddam themselves if they didn't like being oppressed, tortured, and murdered in their thousands by him, so what business was it of ours to liberate them?

I like that excuse... (1)

Soothh (473349) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129802)

No i did not download torrents, its a software glitch.

yeah baby!

This is actually FUNNY (3, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129823)

This is funny because all these large corporate entities are proving (by shooting their own feet) that the Google 'do no evil' mantra is worth more than any advertising campaign....

I can see the future where such 'news articles' cause havoc at the next shareholder's meetings... sadly, that day has not yet arrived, but as the world of commerce gets flatter, it will...

Re:This is actually FUNNY (1)

caffeination (947825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130141)

The best part of that is that it shows that business execs aren't what they portray themselves as. We're supposed to believe that business is about being ruthless and doing anything necessary for money, but since Google has shown just how much reputation can be worth, the rest have continued down the same dark path. They're showing that money isn't the only motivator for these evil decisions - they have got to be getting some perverse thrill out of it, otherwise they'd have adopted the more lucrative Do No Evil facade by now.

Re:This is actually FUNNY (1)

Giometrix (932993) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130179)

I think we may be jumping the gun here by assuming they are being "evil."
As far as Google goes, they're too young to have done anything "evil" yet. Many might argue that they already see them going down that path.

Re:This is actually FUNNY (1)

Cal Paterson (881180) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130220)

As far as Google goes, they're too young to have done anything "evil" yet.

Wrong. Case in point [google.cn]

As we all already know... (2, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129833)

It's easier to ask for forgivness than for permission.

"software glitch" (5, Insightful)

swelke (252267) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129858)

The glitch, of course, being that they got caught.

Re:"software glitch" (2, Funny)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130070)

IMHO, that's not a bug, that's a feature.

It might've been a 'glitch' (3, Interesting)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129866)

If they use heuristics and other methods for spam filtering that don't always work 100% reliably (I've had legit e-mail end up in the spam bin), it legitimately could have been because their spam filter just decided it was spam, and started dumping it. I'm not defending AOL, I think they suck, but just offering an alternate line of thought. Many ISPs use a human-based filter, the company I work for runs into it all the time, people sign up for our mailing list, and rather than cancel when they're done with it, they just click the "report as spam" button, and then all of our company is on their shit-list, even to those users who want to get our e-mails. Especially if somebody was mass-mailing AOL users that e-mail, it seems likely.

-Jesse

Re:It might've been a 'glitch' (2, Interesting)

Kelson (129150) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130394)

Here's another example of how easily a glitch could block a domain name incorrectly.

This case dealt with URLs in the message body, but let's consider a similar circumstance with the sending address and mail server name.

Suppose AOL decides to block mail from servers that claim to be part of aol.com, but aren't at one of their own IP addresses. Now suppose someone miscodes the filter to match "aol.com" instead of ".aol.com". So when they test it with fakename.aol.com, it trips the rule and triggers a "possibly forged" warning. Then something comes in from mail.dearaol.com... which also triggers the rule.

Obviously, this isn't going to block a message from mail.com.com with "www.dearaol.com" in the body, but it should illustrate how easily a well-intentioned but badly-implemented rule could block legit mail.

(Not that I'm convinced it was really a "glitch," just that it seems that it's possible.)

Re:It might've been a 'glitch' (1)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130599)

Yeah, that's all that I'm saying. The possibility certainly exists for it to be a mistake. It also seems _really_ brazen of AOL if they actually did it on-purpose, especially considering how obviously it is. Companies that do bad things don't typically do bad things that are out in the open and so blatantly obvious. Like... if they wanted to block it, why send back a response e-mail at all, just make the sender think their mail got through. If they were being malicious, they sure are bad at it :)

-Jesse

rule #2 (1)

naught (16634) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129893)

private company, well within their rights to censor whatever they want. the people who use AOL do so typically because AOL's easy, it's a name they recognize, and they like the features that are included. these folks are AOL's subscribers, they operate under AOL's license, and they have to abide by AOL's rules. such is the cost of ease.

while i think it's a lousy pr decision, i don't think they're wrong for keeping emails out of their users' inbox that may be harmful to their business. on the contrary, it's quite prudent for them to do so. at some point, business have to be able to make decisions that their customers don't like -- their customers will either leave or they won't.

Re:rule #2 (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130172)

"DHL is a private company.. theyre well within their rights to censor my mail if it says something bad against them..."

I'm sorry but It's not considered proper or legal to snoop someone's physical mail even as a private company.. and internet service providers as and industry are in full control over all "routes" for email just as the government is in control of all "routes" for us postage.

I fail to see the functional difference, and as such ISP's should be held to the same constitutional standards as their physical counterparts.

Re:rule #2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130297)

I'm sorry but It's not considered proper or legal to snoop someone's physical mail even as a private company.. and internet service providers as and industry are in full control over all "routes" for email just as the government is in control of all "routes" for us postage.

I take it you don't approve of spam filters, either.

Re:rule #2 (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130397)

spam filters are generally under a user's (read "computer owner's") control, not that of a company. when they are controlled by some external entity rather than the owner of said computer I sure don't approve of spam filters..

one case:
spamsoap.

This spam filter blanket blocks all gmail addresses. It is anticompetitive and effectively prevents my entire family's communication with anyone contracting with this company.

My server, my rules. (2, Insightful)

Kelson (129150) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130247)

That's been a mantra among the anti-spam community for years. According to that doctrine, AOL is perfectly within its rights to block whatever the hell it wants subject to its users' preferences.

That's a key issue: AOL's mail filters are not accountable to MoveOn, the EFF, Craigslist, or anyone else involved in DearAOL. They are accountable only to AOL and AOL's users.

SPAM? (2, Interesting)

goldspider (445116) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129904)

"Over 300 people reported that they had tried sending AOL subscribers messages that contained a link to www.DearAOL.com"

Sounds like a good candidate for a SPAM filter if you ask me.

Don't you guys love it when someone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15129908)

has to make a big to do about tattling on you, instead of just saying, "Hey now, WTF are you doing?"

Say "goodbye" to your common carrier status, AOL (4, Interesting)

karlandtanya (601084) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129950)

Say hello to civil and criminal liability.

Re:Say "goodbye" to your common carrier status, AO (1)

gclef (96311) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130022)

Offtopic a bit, but it may be interesting to note that almost no one is actually claiming "Common Carrier" status. Including AOL. The problem is that being a "Common Carrier" in the US includes several requirements that people don't want to meet.

Also, note that from the wiki entry on common carriers [wikipedia.com] ISPs aren't considered telecommunications services (where common carrier status applies)...they're "information services":

...which holds that ISP service (both "retail" and backbone) is an "information service" (not subject to common carrier obligations) rather than a "telecommunications service" (which might be classified as "common carriage").

So, they're already not a common carrier. They probably never really were.

AOL - irking customers since 1983 (3, Insightful)

blcamp (211756) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129953)


AOL exists on name recognition and the ignorance of the customers that choose to use them as an ISP. Nothing new here. As such, this becomes the modus operandi for everything it does... "let's block these mails, but show them as bounced messages... our users are too dumb to know the difference anyway, right?" Still, nothing new here.

But AOL itself is stupid, thinking that EVERYONE is so blissfully unaware of it's business practices. Even moreso, that anyone would be OK with it.

I don't know which is worse... that AOL thinks it can get away with an e-mail tax, that it can censor e-mails opposing it, or that it thought it was perfectly OK to do either (or both).

Hey, AOL... there are still parts of your feet still down there... keep shooting.

The common user needs to understand this situation (2, Insightful)

Fluidic Binary (554336) | more than 8 years ago | (#15129961)

I think abuses like this need to be more widely publicized and discussed to educated the masses of ignorant users. I find this just as offensive as having my snail mail filtered (even if AOL is a company and not a federal service). The common user needs to understand this situation.

ISPs in my experience have an attitude that it is their service and the users who depend on it are merely 'subs' (subscribers). While this perception may in fact be accurate, most users see it as 'their service' and view the ISP merely as a provider. So on one hand, most users spend their days thinking they are the 'always right' and 'all powerful due to their dollar' consumer. On the other hand ISPs tend to see their users as 'fat dumb and happy till something needs maintenance'.

This dichotomy can exist, because in the end most users are too ignorant about IT to know what they can reasonably demand and not reasonably demand. A user is just as likely to call AOL to demand help with excel as they are about their mail being filtered.

In the end users don't own the service they are renting, but ISPs need to learn to respect the rights of their users. The only way that is going to happen is if somehow, Joe six pack gets as pissed about this, as he would be if someone was filtering his mail.

Crazy customers (2, Funny)

mrowton (828923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130004)

The [ebtx.com] average [afterophelia.com] AOL [isomedia.com] user [babeonhd.com] is [bikepainter.com] reason [faqs.org] to [heferito.com] doubt [aolwatch.org] darwin [anti-aol.org]

Corporations always put shareholders first (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130010)

Why should you think that AOL should be different? AOL is doing this blocking in order to fulfill the interests of their shareholders. The blocking was removed to fulfill the interests of their shareholders. They are required by law in the US to do so. In fact, if they didn't they could go to jail for failing to put the interests of the shareholders first. Why do you think that so many companies get fined for doing environmental damage? If it's going to save money by destroying some stream somewhere then they will do it for the best interests of the shareholders. If they are caught, well the fines are often nothing compared to the money they can save. AOL is no different than any other corporation in the US. Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Apple, and AOL (along with every other corporation) are all cut from the same cloth. The law made them that way. If you don't like it, CHANGE THE LAW.

Re:Corporations always put shareholders first (1)

Immercenary_2000 (863998) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130613)

The law also states that they must not break any other laws in order to fulfill the best interests of the shareholders, therefore you have no argument as they are not being required to break one law to follow another. They choose to do this, they do not have to.

Good reason to sign on... (2, Insightful)

fak3r (917687) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130033)

For now, the best thing to do to oppose it is to visit DearAOL http://www.dearaol.com/ [dearaol.com] -- and signup in the right hand gutter "Sign The Letter as an Individual"

Their petition states:
In February 2006, AOL announced that it would accept payment for incoming emails. For these certified emails, it would skip its usual anti-spam filters and guarantee delivery for cash. Our coalition believes that the free passage of email between Internet users is a vital part of what makes the Internet work. When ISPs demand a cut of "pay-to-send" email, they're raising tollbooths on the open Net, interfering with the passage of data by demanding protection money at the gates of their customers' computers.

Friends ... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130061)

Friends don't let friends use AOL.

Spread the word. Don't badger [badger, badger ...], but let them know what AOL's doing to ..., er, for them.

Where's the problem? (3, Insightful)

ConvenienceComputers (932844) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130094)

I don't see any problem with AOL filtering out emails that they consider hurtful. They use the "AOL Constitution" known as TOS (Terms of Service). An AOL subscriber must abide by this TOS contract if s/he wants to continue being a subscriber of AOL's service.

I do not like AOL, and that is why I am not an AOL subscriber.

You join as a subscriber, you play by their rules. Once you join, you make a connection to their network and, that's just it, you are on THEIR NETWORK. It is their land and their 'domain.' They make the laws - their rules. I think you get the point.

I don't see the issue (2, Insightful)

XMilkProject (935232) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130136)

Ya ya, we all hate AOL, but lets be reasonable here...

This WAS spam was it not? The article clearly says that 300 people reported they couldn't send a copy of this email. If 300 people reported it, I can only imagine how many thousands tried to send it.

If I was a spam filter, and I saw thousands of copies of the same email going out, I'd filter it too.

Re:I don't see the issue (1)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130164)

I don't think that word means what you think it means. Spam would be one person trying to send an email to hundreds of people, not hundreds of people trying to send an email to a few people each.

Re:I don't see the issue (1)

bmetzler (12546) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130291)

Spam would be one person trying to send an email to hundreds of people, not hundreds of people trying to send an email to a few people each.

I thought spam was sending *unsolicited* email? Certainly this would meet the definition of being unsolicited. Does the fact that it is a lot of email going to a few people instead of a lot of people make it any less unsolicited?

-Brent

Re:I don't see the issue (1)

Kelson (129150) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130449)

Spam would be one person trying to send an email to hundreds of people, not hundreds of people trying to send an email to a few people each.

Of course, from the reciving server's perspective, it's hard to tell the difference between hundreds of people trying to send the same email to a few people each, and hundreds of zombies trying to send the same email to a few people each.

This is one of many things that make accurate automatic spam classification a difficult problem, and why false positives continue to be a problem.

google? (1)

moochfish (822730) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130225)

Here's a question for everybody: Seeing as Google now has a significant stake in AOL, do you think they care for a split second that this reeks of "evil"?

Good news (1)

nodeadlysins (963910) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130283)

I'm actually pleased to see this happen. These are the kind of situations that test whether or not people will tolerate having someone else control their information. If the public backlash is sufficient (and it probably won't be just this one incident, at least not for most average customers), people will begin to investigate alternative carriers and technologies, with the unmitigated flow of information in mind, as a product. Fortunately freedom is part of the market economy to one extent or another, so long as there isn't an oligarchy of AOLs and AT&Ts running the show.

Re:Good news (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130454)

except for that little problem that all telcos/isps have the FCC and federal agencies in their back pockets, and thus are allowed to consolidate, are given monopoly or near monopoly status in their given area, and have been granted exemptions from rules governing telecom regarding the internet by successfully campaigning for reclassification as an "information service".

I would love to believe in the free market.. but in this case there is no real competition here.

Want to refute me, I will give you case and point:

I have a friend in britain, where they recently put into place exactly the strict rules which the FCC rolled back here in the US.

The result? Broadband became less restrictive, and dsl and cable carriers are not in a race in terms of offered speeds.
The current average broadband speed offered in his area is 24mbit/s, and is set to double next season.

Where is the us again? 4-6 megabits in most areas?

Logic (1)

vga_init (589198) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130420)

From http://www.dearaol.com/ [dearaol.com] :

AOL's "email tax" is the first step down a slippery slope that will harm the Internet itself.

The "slippery slope" is a well known logical fallacy; why did they include it?

After all, I support their cause, but I can't put my name on a letter written like that!

Re:Logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130579)

The slippery slope is neither a fallacy or a logical argument. It is the idea that, based on historical events, that a possible future event will cause an increasing chain reaction of undesirable and unwanted effects as a result.

Nice timing (2, Interesting)

SCHecklerX (229973) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130543)

Mail to AOL from my mail servers just started bouncing again yesterday. The time is coming closer to tell my list members that if they are using AOL for email, they need to find another way if they want to use my lists.

Software Glitch? (2, Funny)

GoatRider (965138) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130603)

I thought AOL is a software glitch.

Wierd (1)

Unsus (901072) | more than 8 years ago | (#15130842)

Isn't it so wierd how computer glitches cause random sites like www.DearAOL.com to be banned? We'll never understand these complex computer thingies.

Obvious parallel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15130860)

Now you know why they call it America, online.
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