AOL blames software glitch for blocking critics’ emails

Internet service provider AOL has come under fire after it emerged that the company was blocking emails critical of its services.
Internet service provider AOL has come under fire after it emerged that the company was blocking emails critical of its services.
Users discovered that AOL was screening out messages that included a link to – a website which campaigns against recent decisions made by the ISP – after realising that such emails were mysteriously failing to reach their destination. ISPs provide customers with a connection to the internet.
After the complaints began to appear, DearAOL’s backers began to test the problem for themselves. “I tried to email my brother-in-law about and AOL sent me a response as if he had disappeared,” said Wes Boyd, a backer of the site. “But when I sent him an email without the link, it went right through.”
Some activists say that email censorship is a problem which could affect millions of people without their knowledge.
“The fact is ISPs like AOL commonly make these kinds of arbitrary decisions – silently banning huge swaths of legitimate mail on the flimsiest of reasons,” said Danny O’Brien, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights campaign group.
AOL, which has around 20 million subscribers in the US and more than 2 million in Britain, insisted that it had not actively censored the emails. “We’ve been accurately and responsibly delivering tens of millions of emails containing that web link, and we will continue to do so,” said Nicholas Graham, a spokesman for the company. Mr Graham blamed a “software glitch” for the problem, and said DearAOL had been mistakenly identified as a site run by email spammers. Like most ISPs, AOL runs a filtering program to try to prevent unwanted messages clogging up users’ inboxes. Technicians fixed the block within 24 hours. consists of an open letter that attacks the company’s decision to begin charging to deliver some email. The plans, announced in February, will introduce a special tariff that companies or individuals can pay to guarantee that an email will bypass spam filtering systems. It is thought the system will cost between $2.50 (about £1.40) and $10 per thousand emails. Other providers such as Yahoo are considering the system, but it has yet to be implemented.

The ISP says this will help to reduce the amount of spam by ensuring that only legitimate emails will get through to users, but web activists believe it will cause harm to ordinary users.
“This system would create a two-tiered internet in which affluent mass emailers could pay AOL a fee that amounts to an ’email tax’ for every email sent,” says the letter, which has gained more than 350,000 signatories since it was launched two months ago. Campaigners say the debacle shows exactly why the new system is a bad idea.