Critics of America Online’s proposed “pay-to-send” e-mail program were angered late last week when e-mail messages containing their www.DearAOL.com Web page links were automatically bounced back to senders by AOL’s antispam filters.
The nonprofit DearAOL.com Coalition was formed in February to protest what it called AOL’s creation of an e-mail tax that would harm the free and open use of the Internet.
In an e-mail message Thursday, organizers of the group said their fears of AOL trying to control e-mail were confirmed when e-mails they sent to AOL users were blocked from being delivered.
The problem was found when more than 150 people tried to sign a petition against the certified e-mail proposal and send messages about the efforts to people they know who use AOL. The messages were apparently blocked by AOL’s antispam filter, which sent a bounceback message informing them that their e-mail “failed permanently,” according to the group.
“This proves the DearAOL.com Coalition’s point entirely: Left to their own devices, AOL will always put its own self interest ahead of the public interest in a free and open Internet,” said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, a national, nonpartisan media reform and Internet policy issue group, in a statement. “AOL wants us to believe they won’t hurt free e-mail when their pay-to-send system is up and running. But if AOL is willing to censor the flow of information now to silence their critics, how could anyone trust that they will preserve the free and open Internet down the road? Their days of saying ‘trust us’ are over — their credibility is gone.”
The company, however, says the problem was inadvertent and has been fixed.
Nicholas Graham, a spokesman for New York-based AOL, Friday acknowledged that a “technical glitch” on Wednesday caused the problem when AOL technicians installed “some sort of [software] tool” that apparently caused the e-mails to be blocked.
“A technical glitch arose on AOL late Wednesday affecting 50 or 60 different Web links in e-mails,” Graham said. “We discovered the issue early Thursday morning, and our teams started working to identify the software glitch at that time. It had been fixed by Thursday afternoon.”
Several other companies and organizations affected by the e-mail blocking problem also contacted AOL about the difficulties, Graham said, but he said he could not identify them due to confidentiality rules. “This was, simply put, just a glitch affecting a bunch of different and varied companies and organizations.”
Graham said he is not sure why the glitch affected only 50 to 60 Web links.
A spokesman for MoveOn.org Civic Action, one of the nonprofit groups that is involved in the DearAOL Coalition, said the AOL repairs came only after the protest group announced that AOL was blocking e-mails containing the Web link.
“AOL was caught red-handed censoring e-mail, and now the public knows their credibility is gone,” said Adam Green, a spokesman for MoveOn.org Civic Action, in a statement.
The protests began after AOL announced plans to charge fees to e-mail senders, such as marketing companies, that want to ensure their mails are pre-accepted by recipients. The program, which was announced by AOL and Yahoo Inc. in October, will use technology from Goodmail Systems Inc. in Mountain Valley, Calif., to differentiate e-mail sent by groups or companies that want to assure AOL customers of its authenticity. The system would affect only e-mail sent to AOL’s approximately 18 million customers.