[Mailman-Users] AOL redacts user addresses even with VERP and full personalization enabled

Brad Knowles brad at shub-internet.org
Sun Jun 17 15:34:11 CEST 2012

On Jun 16, 2012, at 9:58 PM, Lindsay Haisley wrote:

> I have no idea why AOL wants to make it difficult for list
> administrators to unsubscribe people who don't want to be subscribed and
> who complain to AOL about list posts being spam.

I can tell you the reasons that management gave at the time I was working there -- it was all about the privacy of their user.  They said that they wanted to protect the privacy of the person who was complaining.

In fact, when you sign up for the AOL Feedback Loop (as I did years ago for the lists hosted at python.org), the instructions explicitly state that you may not use any information they give you to determine who the affected user is -- they're simply telling you that you have a problem that you need to fix on your end to keep spam from being generated in the first place, and it is not relevant which AOL user is complaining.

Of course, this completely ignores the problem of the AOL user who hits the "This is spam" button without knowing that they did it, or accidentally includes one of your messages when they hit that button on a whole selection of that they want to complain about.

I've even seen people hit the "This is spam" button on individual personal messages that they got from a member of their own family who was of the opposite political party and who was talking about politics.  Imagine your crazy Uncle Joe ranting and raving about some political party member they like/dislike and about whom you feel the opposite, and instead of asking them to stop or just deleting the message, you hit the button that tells AOL that this person spammed you.

And yes, AOL knows full well just how stupid their users are.  But the customer is always right.  They stuck their spear into the soil, and now the shakier the ground that they stand on, the more violently they must hold onto the position that they have committed themselves to.  To do otherwise would mean that they were admitting that they were wrong, which would make them culpable in court.

So, you and I and everyone else on the planet has to suffer because of their stupid policies.

>  The only explanations
> that come to mind are very sinister ones, but given the way things are
> going these days, it may indeed be that AOL is truly trying to break the
> Internet mail system so that they and their ilk can try to rebuild it
> according to their own (for profit) model.

No, they're much too short-sighted for that.  And they're not smart enough for that, either.

You should not assume sinister (but intelligent) motives when plain corporate stupidity will suffice.

> Is there anyone with the Mailman project with sufficiently informed
> inside contacts at AOL who could find out exactly what's going on with
> AOL (and Earthlink, which I believe uses the same system) and why
> they're doing this?

All my contacts are outdated.  Everyone I knew who worked there has long since moved on.  But that doesn't change the reasons that were given at the time, nor the reasons why they continue to follow the same stupid policies.

> It might be worth noting that one of the several lists I host will not
> accept subscriptions from AOL addresses because of their problem
> policies.  What with gmail accounts being free and easy to get, AOL is
> simply cutting themselves out of the loop in the long run with their
> policies.  No loss there!

I'm not surprised.  AOL doesn't care about those small percentages of loss for that one product.  That's trivial compared to the value of the company as a whole if they were to admit that they were wrong with a result of getting their ass dragged into many more court cases.

I know the guy who was the SRE for Gmail, and on the technical side they still have some people who care and have a clue.  I do feel that Google is the Next Great Evil in this world, but that doesn't change the facts of the technical implementation of their mail system relative to AOL.  Of course, that's not saying much….

Brad Knowles <brad at shub-internet.org>
LinkedIn Profile: <http://tinyurl.com/y8kpxu>

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