Thursday, April 13, 2006

AOL Censors Opposition Group

Company Lifts Email Block After Activists Cry Foul

AOL was caught red-handed today censoring email to its customers that included a link to a site opposing the company's proposed "email tax."

Over 300 people reported that they had tried sending AOL subscribers messages that contained a link to, but received a bounceback message informing them that their email "failed permanently."

After the 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."

Censorship Thy Name is AOL
Today’s events prove the Coalition’s point entirely: Left to their own devices, AOL will always put its own self interest ahead of the public interest. AOL wants us to believe they won’t hurt free email when their pay-to-send system is up and running. But if AOL is willing to censor the flow of information to silence their critics, today, how could anyone trust that they will preserve the free and open internet down the road?
(Pic: AOL CEO Jonathan Miller)
Here are some comments from people who experienced AOLs censorship and then tested it after AOL had reversed themselves:

Christina Lee, Atlanta Georgia :
“My email went through late this afternoon, but earlier today when I sent the same email with the link ‘’ in it, it was blocked. Proof of why AOL should NOT be allowed to tax emails -- they do NOT have the best interest of their customers in mind if they think they can decide what their customers can or cannot read.”
Eve Fox, Washington, DC:
"They obviously stopped blocking the emails with in them. Their behavior is a perfect example of why Goodmail is such a bad idea. That type of control and interference threatens the inherent democracy of the Internet."
Seth Hall, Massachusetts:
"After having my email to a family member blocked earlier today (April 13), the same message seems to have been delivered successfully just now, 2.5 hours later…Whether AOL has modified their errant ways or not, this example of filtering is a powerful reminder of just how dangerous it is to allow large corporate, profit driven entities to manipulate our Internet resources, especially when the public interest competes directly with their own private interests.”
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham is now telling the media that censoring was an innocent mistake. After lifting the block, Graham attributed the issue to a technical mishap that "affected dozens of Web links in messages," including

"We discovered the issue early this morning, and our postmaster and mail operations team started working to identify this software glitch," he told CNet News.

Others are more skeptical. "I forwarded to my own AOL account and it was censored. Apparently I can't even tell myself about it," said Kelly Tessitore, an AOL customer from Massachusetts.

According to EFF's Danny O'Brien, ISPs like AOL can silently ban huge swathes of legitimate mail for the flimsiest of reasons. The problem is that no-one hears about it.

It's only when DearAOL users cried foul, that this censorship came to light. This begs the question: how many other emails with important information have been barred by AOL?

AOL is part of the Time Warner, the media colossus that also runs the nation's second largest broadband cable provider. Time Warner is actively lobbying Congress -- alongside the nation's other cable and telephone giants -- to do away with protections that preserve the Internet's open architecture. These regulatory principles, called "network neutrality" are the only guarantee that users have unfettered access to the content and services of their choice.

AOL's actions today should put everyone on alert against network giants promising to be good stewards of a free and open Internet.

The Coalition collectively represents over 15 million people – and has grown from 50 member organizations to 600 in a month. Since the beginning of the campaign, more than 350,000 Internet users have signed letters opposing AOLs pay-to-send email proposal. Coalition members include craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the Association of Cancer Online Resources, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, the AFL-CIO, Civic Action, Gun Owners of America, and others.


exlt said...

I am a systems engineer, and have been a sysadmin for many years, working with small and large businesses' web infrastructure, including massive email servers.

The claim of, "Oops, we accidentally typed a URL in our global email filter" is outright dishonesty. Nicholas Graham is a liar, but that is the job of a PR person.

Understandably, a non-technical AOL user might think that this claimed "innocent mistake" and "software glitch" is actually true, but this kind of move by AOL is how they keep their user base from knowing how things really work...

ironkurton said...

Systems engineer here as well, and I agree whole-heartedly. Since the article mentions that "dozens of weblinks" were affected, I would be interested to know what the other affected weblinks are.

Russell said...

I am a systems engineer, and have been a sysadmin for many years, working with small and large businesses' web infrastructure, including massive email servers with automatic spam blocking filters.

The claim of ``"Oops, we accidentally typed a URL in our global email filter" is outright dishonestly.'' is outright dishonesty. Nicholas Graham isn't a liar because in fact he never said any such thing. Go read the article for yourself and see if that's what Nicholas said.

The problem here is that somebody sent a whole pile of email containing the URL. AOL's filter saw that, concluded that because of the volume, and (I'm speculating here) complaints (even legitimate email gets complained about -- my own server has been blocked), that the email was spam, and so it placed the URL on a blacklist.

Or do you think AOL wanted to look that duplicitous? When you see somebody do something you disagree with, and you have the choice between "stupid mistake" and "evil", choose "stupid mistake" and you'll usually be right.

Mutant said...

I run a medium sized mailing list off my server,

I had several dozen subscribers in the AOL domain, and consistently had problems with bouncing / filtering out of AOL. And usually for bogus reasons.

For example, about one year ago they were filtering ALL email that contained tinurl tags, as a "security" measure. Just to show you how totally bogus it was, even the text tinyurl, tiny (space) url , etc were filtered - that is, just the phrase or two words, NOT EVEN A URL!

Recently someone replied to a post with a string of profanity, including the word FUCK several times in a row. Now everyone on the list are good friends, have been for years, and we jerk each others chains a great deal. No problem. For us at least, but AOL didn't see it that way, and banned ALL email from due to what the headers of their bounces claimed were"profanity violations". I know for a fact that nobody on my list complained to AOL as most are family and the rest good friends.

Totally bogus.

I couldn't even email folks exaplaing what was going on from, and had to use Gmail to tell folks about the problem and ask them for their help in getting email from my domain unblocked (AOL won't do squat for non subscribers).

Bingo. I sent out Gmail invites to every one of my AOL subscribers and after much lobbying two weeks ago the last switched over. Problem solved.

But not really - well, from AOLs pov at least.

Several of those impacted noted that lots of email was helpfully being screened by AOL, including email from what should be whitelisted, top of the shelf domains - CitiBank, Fidelity, yahoo!, I'm not sure what else.

So of these two dozen former AOL subscribers from my list, at least six are now former AOL subscribers and several others are making plans to bolt as well.

And telling all their friends about AOL, the Nanny ISP.

To summarise: a couple of frustrating years of my time wasted, dealing with bogus AOL bounces, and then I finally managed to get a bunch of folks off AOL.

Works for me.

RADdams said...

The irony...I too am a systems engineer and MCP. Why this blog? Why?

I don't want to mediate, but I think that both ironkurton and russell are both partially right (and partially wrong). It is rediculous to think that the "system" decided to block the link because of volume alone, just like a conspiracy theory was the cause. Come on, do you think that more AOL customers were sending links to DearAOL or some non-news story about Brittney Spears dropping her kid? Or for that matter a link to American Idol gossip? There are sites that track this stuff if you care, but my hunch is that the latter two were e-mailed 1000:1 more than DearAOL.

We're talking about AOL/AOHell here aren't we folks? Gosh, think about who their customers are. I mean, duh!

What probably happened was some rogue, low-level company loyalist decided to block it. Every company has a rogue in the IT department who is just enough off kilter to do something like this without thinking about the consequences. Too bad Ted Turner resigned from the Board of Directors, he would have cared.

All kidding aside, it would be interesting to see what the big players on the internet are routinely filtering. Now there is a consipiracy!

tinfoil said...

I agree with the other sysadmins here. I'm a unix admin and have been for years. This isn't an oops.

I also run a mailing list with some 700 subscribers that is dedicated to a piece of musical gear (a Boss GT-6B effects processor to be exact) and have had problems for years with AOL accounts. Whenever a new one signs up, I send them to gmail and tell them it is for their own good.

tinfoil said...

I agree with the other sysadmins here. I'm a unix admin and have been for years. This isn't an oops.

I also run a mailing list with some 700 subscribers that is dedicated to a piece of musical gear (a Boss GT-6B effects processor to be exact) and have had problems for years with AOL accounts. Whenever a new one signs up, I send them to gmail and tell them it is for their own good.

spyder said...

A bit off topic, but then at this point it is all germane. I got this bizarrely phrased response from my local conservative Repug congresswoman. Obviously she knows not much about the issue, except to contradictorially munge together her favorite GOP talking points.

Without a doubt, the internet has been one of the greatest technological advancements in generations. It has revolutionized our economy, our education system, and how we communicate. America's ingenuity and creativity has once again given us an invention to help us do our job better, stay more connected with our friends and family, and make our lives easier. I am not supportive of placing burdensome federal regulations or taxes on the internet, or in anyway compromising its freedom.

She doesn't want to compromise: the freedom of the internet and thus hamper further ingenuity and creativity; or the freedom of the ingenious capitalists to make the largest profit from their unrestricted and untaxed control of the net as they see fit?????

Anonymous said...

These motherfucking AOL bastards!!!!

Alan8 said...

This is just the tip of a fascist iceberg. AOL appears to also censor email from:,, and

This unamerican censorship should be illegal!


Anonymous said...

Aol is definately going communist with their sensorship of e mail

Anonymous said...

Aol is starting to uknowingly undo the desire to even use the internet anymore now that they have exposed themselves as big brothers deciple

SherrylCm said...

I'm not a systems engineer, but I do have a question, need a fix and some help.
I have my ftp for our website at aol. On an AOL to AOL browser window search for it shoots off to the site that says Ooops, we can't find the page you're looking for, and then gives suggestions for the fix.
On mozilla, IE and other browsers the search works just fine from the browser window, but not with AOL.
Is this AOL just being pissy to those of us who have the free service that they offered?
And do any of you have suggestions for the fix or the workaround so my customers can get to this and my other sites?
thanks a bunch

Anonymous said...

aol is also sensoring comments on bulletins/blogs. I tried to post, but could not. Whats interesting is that I tried to post messages of love and tolerance. Why was THAT sensored?????????????hmmmm

Anonymous said...

aol sucks made a comment on a very distrubing video of a child being dunked 12 times by a camp counselor and aol or someone didnt like it , Guess aol condones the death of a child

Email Spam Filtering said...

who is that censor opposition group?

Anonymous said...

I first heard about aol censorship several years ago. At the time, it was related to adult material. Since then, they have become a major player in the destruction of our freedom which the United States once took pride in bringing to the world.

When one willfully violates the principles of the US Constitution, I call that Treason!

From what I have seen today, they censor anything they damn well please and everything in any way critical of "the Establishment", making them the enemy of the people, such as gave cause to the reasons why our country was founded.

They constantly interfere with my sending a picture to anyone. It doesn't matter if I took it myself or if it was taken FOR me.

If I download a picture that is freely available through a major search engine or major social media and it's long identifying (Digital Rights tracking?) number is perfectly intact, who are they to violate my privacy and interfere with free and innocent communication.

I reread their terms of service today and they violate their own terms of service!

"To Use Our Services, You: Must not ...interfere with anyone's use of our services, including the sending of e-mail or instant messaging spam.

Every human being has an innate drive to seek freedom BECAUSE of its place in the Divine agenda. When the One infinite power of All that is, is challenged, the One will always prevail.

Garrick said...

I have a small blog on the economy and geo-political issues. Recently I have been including video clips from FOX news and Heritage Foundation that are negative to Obama. It has come to my attention directly and indirectly that the RSS feeds and the forwarded emails of the posts are being censored by AOL.

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