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

David dave at fiteyes.com
Tue Jun 19 21:05:48 CEST 2012

On Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 4:17 AM, Stephen J. Turnbull <stephen at xemacs.org>wrote:

> David writes:
>  > In terms of privacy, as list admins we already have the member's
>  > information. All we are doing in this case is helping that member stop
>  > receiving messages they obviously no longer wish to receive. This is
>  > clearly not an invasion of privacy (especially with a properly encrypted
>  > implementation).
> Nice try, but we still can't define AOL's policy for them.  AOL's
> claim is that we need to fix our spam problem, not unsubscribe the
> member,

Yes, I know that is their perspective. And I know you are playing devil's
advocate, Stephen, which I appreciate. It is worthwhile to make sure we all
understand their perspective, and I don't disagree with anything you wrote.

In fact this is the natural way I think too, so I just assume everyone else
also tries to see all sides of any given situation. But at some point we
have to take action and we have to be practical. A judge may be good at
impartially hearing arguments from both sides, but he also makes a decision
in the end.

When it comes to running our list on our server, AOL is wrong to attempt to
conceal the member identity (both by obfuscation and policy). I'll
elaborate why I come down to that decision while accepting that AOL's
position is (or was) right for them in a certain set of circumstances that
existed when they wrote their TOS.

Our list does not contain any spam. There is no spam problem to fix. Every
post to our list is moderated by a human and we reject posts even from
well-known members when those posts don't meet our guidelines. There is no
way to eliminate something that doesn't exist.

Furthermore, without exception on our list, when an AOL user triggers a
feedback report, they do so on *all* the emails from our list that are
currently in their inbox. There is zero content-specific selectivity. I've
never seen it (on our list). So we may get a dozen or more feedback reports
within a minute, all triggered by the same user and without regard for the
actual content of the messages. I believe I have evidence that would prove
this to any rational person, and I suspect most other people on this list
could put together similar evidence (if they are running spam-free lists
like ours).

This is absolutely *not* a content problem, as AOL would like to pretend
(or define it to be in their TOS). They can define the problem any way they
wish, but the reality is that this is a problem with specific users, not
with content.

Therefore, while AOL can define any policy they wish, their current policy
is completely broken for most of us. Since any and all valid content from
our list can trigger an AOL feedback abuse report, to comply strictly and
eliminate these abuse reports would mean shutting down our list completely.
They give no other option that I can see.

Given that thousands of members value our list greatly, shutting it down to
comply with AOL's broken policy is not a viable solution.

The only solution (given our situation where the trigger is not
content-specific) is to remove the member who won't remove themselves. My
statements may not apply to all users of Mailman, but they are facts in our
specific situation. And all I can deal with are the facts. Therefore, if
our list is to survive (and provide a service to any AOL user), we have to
remove individual AOL users in response to these feedback reports. We have
to do that or we have to shut down Mailman or we have to face having our
server blacklisted. I choose to take the reasonable course of action which
allows me to do the most good for the most people.

In fact, in our specific situation, everyone wins nearly every time. And in
the rare case (hasn't happened yet) that we remove an AOL member who marked
us as spam by mistake, we can easily fix that with little damage or cost to
anyone. So this is not only the reasonable course of action, it is the one
which does the least harm.

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