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 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."
(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 ‘DearAOL.com’ 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 DearAOL.com 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 www.DearAOL.com 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 www.Dearaol.com.
"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 www.DearAOL.com 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 DearAOL.com Coalition collectively represents over 15 million people – and has grown from 50 member organizations to 600 in a month. Since the beginning of the DearAOL.com campaign, more than 350,000 Internet users have signed DearAOL.com 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, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Gun Owners of America, and others.