Herein is the long and sad story of how spam and online crime have driven some ISPs to blind, extreme measures which threaten the very usability of the internet. AOL, one of the world's longest trusted providers can no longer be trusted. Their overzealous quest to sell accounts by offering "spam blocking" is having the effect of isolating their user base from other web users. The following is a saga I've followed first hand -- so I know it's sad but true.
Drastic measures to shore up user base
According to news sources, America Online is considering offering its services, including e-mail, free to customers who already have a high-speed internet connection. Now we can understand why.
A Wired News Report relates:
"AOL would no longer charge subscription fees to users with high-speed internet access or a dial-up service from another provider. AOL customers with "dial-up" internet access through AOL would still have to pay a monthly fee of as much as $26. The WSJ says AOL's U.S. subscriber base fell by 850,000 in the first quarter. But only about 30% of AOL's 18.6 million subscribers already have high-speed Internet access. The shortfall would be made up by advertising.
Reference: Wired News Report Jul, 06, 2006
AOL: Bad Medicine
In my humble opinion, this is bad medicine. If you check, you'll see my AOL screen name "AFAshwkr" was a founding member of AOL. Unfortunately, for the first time in 18 years, I am now forced to advocate dropping your AOL account.
Which brings me to the reason for this post:
Why drop America Online?
Quoting Joanna Glasner, Wired News
" . . . America Online's controversial plan to charge mass e-mailers a fee to bypass their anti-spam system highlights the other, lesser-known, horn of the junk-e-mail problem: Filters that allegedly work too well.
At issue is the problem of "false positives," industry-speak for legitimate messages mistakenly filtered out by anti-spam software.
"If AOL or another ISP decides that someone's a spammer, then no e-mail from that individual gets through," said EFF attorney Cindy Cohn, whose group opposes the AOL plan. "But there's a fundamental difficulty at the heart of the spam debate: The only one who knows what you want delivered in your inbox is you."
For years, e-mail users complained that torrents of unwanted messages clogged their inboxes and crimped their productivity. Now, e-mail users, marketers and mailing list operators are more worried that spam filters are blocking out too many wanted messages.
AOL isn't the only company to face charges that it improperly blocks legitimate messages. But, as the world's largest ISP for years, it has long borne the brunt of complaints from mass e-mailers over the problem." [END QUOTE]
In addition to "false positives," AOL has taken another serious step over the line -- in addition to blocking mail, they block ENTIRE IP ADDRESSES -- evidently with faulty software -- and no intelligent means of recourse, outside of court.
AOL Kills multiple web sites:
On June 13, a chain of hotels along the East coast lost all their email. It simply stopped. As you can well imagine, this caused some trouble for the employees of these properties.
For the past eight years, this small management company has maintained a "business card" style web page, utilizing their domain name primarily for email rather than for a web presence. The web mail for the domain simply redirected incoming email to the end user's AOL account. It worked beautifully and legally until June 13th, when all email halted.
In an attempt to fix the problem, the web master made repeated telephone calls to AOL's Postmaster support line with please to get the block lifted. The only clue as to why the block was in place was "sufficient abuse complaints." Yet server logs showed that there had been no such "spam" nor complaints.
AOL holds email user hostage
Compounding problems, the telephone support spoke nearly non-understandable English -- offering no help beyond reading from the Postmaster's web page explanation of the problem. Additionally, the support person refused to escalate the help ticket, and refused to connect with a 'higher' supervisor. In effect, the webmaster was held hostage by telephone support knowning nothing about the situation and hardly able to communicate in English.
AOL provides bad advice, bad solutions
Over a series of four days, and four more calls into the AOL Postmaster's "support line" (Not an 800 number) the webmaster received four different reasons for the problem, with four different remedies -- all of which were promised to "work" and clear the IP within 24 hours. Today is July 9, and the IP is still blocked.
AOL blind to important communications
Here's where the scenario turns ugly. The fact that the IP is blocked also happens to block other web sites hosted on the same IP block. So other innocent web sites lose their email communication, including one which is a 'lifeline' into a