[Mailman-Users] The AOL Problem

Bob Bowers b-bowers at cox.net
Sat Apr 3 21:26:27 CEST 2004

I am a volunteer webmaster for 3 community organizations all of which have 
mail lists for which I use Mailman. This post is not about a technical 
issue with Mailman. It is about a spam processing issue with AOL, which 
many subscribers to this list will encounter. Yesterday someone posted 
about preventing AOL users subscribing to any list on their servers.

On Tuesday I was informed by my web hosting service that they had multiple 
spam complaints from AOL for one of my mail lists. The emails in question 
did originate from my mail list. The web host or owner of a mail server is 
not provided with identification of the individual reporting spam, and is 
not permitted to determine whether or not the offending message is spam. 
The web hosting service told me that virtually the only solution was to 
remove all AOL users from any mail list, list server or forum I maintain. 
Otherwise my email privileges would be suspended, my hosting account might 
be cancelled, and they feared being blacklisted by AOL which is 
proliferated to other ISPs.

My investigation of only a few days reflects that this is a huge problem 
for legitimate users of bulk email. While AOL is having success finding and 
prosecuting some spammers, in proportion they are creating a huge problem 
for organizations and businesses attempting to maintain legitimate 
communication with their members and customers. Spammers can move easily 
and (often) illegitimately use another mail server. I can't, and you can't, 
move as easily. Spammers can ignore AOL spam reports, but you and I can't.

Just a few things I learned:
1) A major airline which has its own web services is having the same 
problem with their own legitimate bulk email to their customers, and 
employing the same solution, not accpeting AOL email addressess from 
subscribers. One of their representatives who is a personal friend tells me 
they are also on the verge of purging AOL email accounts from their 
subscription lists.
2) I am retired. The IT company for which I used to work is ignoring AOL 
spam complaints as their mail servers will not be effectively blacklisted. 
Neither I nor my web host has that luxury.
3) AOL is completely non-responsive to the problem except to tell you about 
their bulk email policies and their "whitelisiting." However if one of 
their users reports your messages as spam, they are treated as spam 
regardless of compliance.
4) Read AOL's bulk email policies. You may find that, by their definition, 
messages from your mail lists ARE spam. Even if they are not, if an AOL 
user reports them as spam, they are treated as spam by everyone including 
your provider with no recourse. http://www.aol.com/info/bulkemail.adp

AOL users may simply push a button on their mail window to report spam, 
either in the PC program or the web interface, an action which requires no 
confirmation and is not retractable, and the reported email is 
automatically processed. It is not the spam filters which are creating the 
problem. Many organizations and companies are asking their members or 
customers for alternate email addresses.

By telling my users that I cannot support AOL email addresses I have 
started a rebellion. I have no solution except to find alternative means of 
communicating with them. Moving web hosts will not work as the problem will 

I am trying to give other subscribers to this list who have not yet 
encountered the AOL problem a "heads up." AOL is not going to respond until 
they hear from their own customers who are unable to subscribe to 
information resources they need. You can also write to AOL management if 
you encounter the problem of AOL spam reports:
Jonathan Miller, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Ted Leonsis, Vice Chairman, America Online, Inc. and President, AOL Core 
John McKinley, Chief Technology Officer & President, AOL Technologies
American Online Inc.
22000 AOL Way
Dulles VA 20166

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