October 3, 2005
by Martin McKinney
The Financial Reporter (U.K.)
Washington- The American-based internet giant, AOL, wholly-owned
by Time-Warner, has formed a working partnership with the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security to permit unlimited surveillance of the millions of
AOL online members, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
AOL works 'closely with the DHS' to supply information on any AOL customer
and allows agents from these entities 'free and unfettered' access to AOL
Hq at Dulles, VA for the purpose of 'watching over and keeping surveillance'
'on the millions of AOL customers,' according to the report.
The legal basis for this is the recently Congress-approved
Patriot Act which permits warrantless searches of persons and property.
While information gleaned from delving into personal computer messages is
supposed to be kept confidential, it appears that the DHS has exceeded their
brief and obtained what appears to be strictly personal information which
is then circulated to entities outside the DHS.
The Department of Commerce report also states that news of
this surveillance has leaked out and is causing serious concern in the American,
and European, business communities who are fearful that trade secrets may
be given to other business entities, considered as "friendly"
to the Bush Administration.
AOL Madness (Warn Your Friends)
AOL is at it again. This time, it's reading *inside* its members'
emails, and preemptively blocking any messages that contain links tosites
that AOL doesn't want you to see.
Note: I'm *not* talking about simple mail blocks, where a
mail is discarded if it originates from a "forbidden" address.
No: AOL is parsing the content of its members' emails and blocking them
even if they merely *mention* a site that AOL disapproves of. This happened
to my last newsletter issue, when I mentioned a perfectly valid and inoffensive
link: ~codeproject~com . It turns out that last summer, in July, AOL put
that site on its naughty list for some unexplained reason, and ever since
has blocked all emails that even contain a link to that address.
When my list-host noticed huge numbers of AOL emails bouncing
back, they preemptively sought to find out why, and the folks at AOL then
removed the block--- on that one address.AOL's mail system is just this
side of insane. Not only does it read inside member emails for links that
AOL doesn't like, but--- as we've reported before--- if AOL members get
a little lazy and block a newsletter like this one, instead of unsubscribing,
AOL keeps track of the blocks. Last time I looked, if as few as 10 readers
took the lazy way out of stopping a mailing, AOL would assume that the mail
in question was spam. In my case, if just 10 AOL users out of 160,000 readers---
that's 0.00006 of my readers--- took the lazy way off the list, all AOL
subscribers would have their legitimate issues blocked for some time thereafter.
AOL's user-level mail filters are nearly useless because the
master filters discard emails before they ever make it to the users' mailboxes
and the local filters there. That means AOL members can white-listsenders
to their heart's content but it will have no effect at all on the pre-filtering
that's done by AOL before their mail ever gets delivered. AOL's user-level
mail controls are a little like those fake thermostats you sometimes see
in office buildings that are meant to give occupants the illusion of local
control, when in reality, a central system is making all the real decisions.
Noted tech writer Brian Livingston also has been struggling
with this, as he reported. Just look at the jaw-dropping failure rates he
found: I've written many times that Internet service providers (ISPs) are
mishandling the growing menace of spam by imposing crude "junk-mail
filters" that delete legitimate messages without notifying the intended
recipients of that fact. ...AOL "bounced" about 88% of the newsletters
that had been sent to subscribers who use aol.com e-mail addresses. The
problem was also severe at subsidiaries owned by AOL,including cs.com (which
bounced 88%) and netscape.net (96%). ..[AOL's] filter simply deletes huge
quantities of mail without ever delivering it... (click link above for full
If you have friends on AOL, you may wish to tell them about
this so they'll know why their email is so unreliable. Of course, there's
no guarantee they'll see your email, just as there's no guarantee that legitimate
subscribers to this newsletter on AOL will get this issue....
But there's a glimmer of hope: For the first time ever, AOL's
membership has started to shrink significantly. Users are finally realizing
they can get better service at lower costs from other ISPs. Perhaps if enough
members vote with their dollars, AOL will wake up and meaningfully change
its Big Brother-ish ways.
AOL settles deceptive business practice probe
by Eliot Spitzer's office Internet service provider pays $1.25 million over
questionable customer service practices
August. 24, 2005
ALBANY, N.Y. - America Online Inc., the world's largest Internet
service provider, will pay $1.25 million in penalties and costs and reform
some of its customer service practices to settle an investigation by Attorney
General Eliot Spitzer's office.
Around 300 consumers had filed complaints with Spitzer's office
accusing AOL, a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., of ignoring
demands to cancel service and stop billing.
The company, with 21 million subscribers nationally, rewarded
employees who were able to retain subscribers who called to cancel their
Internet service. For years, AOL had minimum retention or "save"
percentages customer service personnel were expected to meet, investigators
The employees could earn tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses
if they were able to dissuade half of their callers from ending service.
That led many employees to make it difficult for consumers
to cancel service or simply ignore such requests, Spitzer spokesman Brad
As part of the settlement, Dulles, Va.-based AOL agreed to
eliminate any requirements that its customer service representatives maintain
a minimum number of "saves" in order to earn a bonus, a policy
in place at "various times since 2000" and record all service
cancellation requests. It will verify the cancellation through a third-party
monitor, investigators said.
"This agreement helps ensure that AOL will strive to
keep its customers through quality service, not stealth retention programs,"
Spitzer said in a statement.
AOL, which cooperated with Spitzer's office, did not admit
to any wrongdoing in the settlement.
The company also agreed to provide up to four months of refunds
to all New York consumers who claim their cancellation requests were ignored.
AOL has 1.9 million subscribers in New York.
New York consumers seeking refunds can obtain a claim form
from the attorney general's Web site.
"AOL is pleased to have reached an agreement with the
state of New York on customer care practices that will increase quality
assurance, and assist with the verification of certain member intentions
online," said AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham.
The company in April agreed to pay $75,000 for costs and make
refunds to a "small number" of customers in Ohio after reaching
a settlement with that state's attorney general, Graham said.
In September 2003, America Online agreed to improve the way
it deals with customers who want to cancel their Internet service to resolve
federal allegations that the company used unfair billing practices. The
Federal Trade Commission settlement also required AOL and its subsidiary,
CompuServe Interactive Services Inc., to keep promises for delivering rebates
for online services.
Why AOL EMail Stinks
October 6, 2005
by Blanche Evans
Realtors using AOL aren't getting the service they deserve.
In order to enjoy the numerous features of America Online,
one of the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the world, many
Realtors have chosen AOL as their ISP for business use as well as personal
use. Enticed by such lures as free trials, chat rooms, and Web centers,
including a large real estate center powered by Realtor.com, Realtors are
justifiably attracted to such a feature-rich, easy-to-use ISP.
Internet trainers such as Michael Russer, Allen F. Hainge
and Saul Klein, among others, routinely advise Realtors to avoid using AOL
email for business purposes
According to Russer and Hainge, the problem lies in the functionality
of the email software. Russer has stated numerous times in training seminars
across the country that AOL is not a business ISP. Hainge agrees. "AOL
is not a businessperson's email," he says. "in that it is too
limited in what it can do from a marketing standpoint (signatures, filters,
separate mailboxes, etc.). You need an ISP, not AOL, for your email."
Klein, who operates a large ListServe called InternetCrusade,
says that AOL has problems specifically with email management. Over the
past 5 months InternetCrusade has documented over 30 cases where long time
RealTalk members have failed to receive the RealTalk-Digest.
Repeated attempt to correct the disappearing digests through
the AOL postmaster have yielded no results, says Klein. "AOL insists
the problem is on YOUR end." He quotes the AOL Postmaster reply "the
end user has obviously made changes in their preferences to block the email."
"Their reasoning is that if some of us are getting the
Digest, then all of us should be getting the digest unless 'we' made a change,"
says a frustrated Klein.
"AOL's mail manager is primitive," he says. "When
you go to mailbox, I have to click on it and open the email. That takes
a couple of seconds. And if that doesn't sound like much, and I am sending
out a lot of emails, the time adds up if your are sending or receiving and
you have to open every one. It has email limitations, attachment size limitations,
attachment problems, multiple attachment issues on pre-4.0 versions, and
an AOL return address even if you own your own domain.
"AOL is an "edutainment" Internet ISP,"
Outlining the problems, Klein continues, "I can tell you that as far
as problems with email size limitations, that the allowed size isn't very
big. AOL will turn "big" emails into an attachment. It is one
thing to download an attachment when somebody sends you an email or with
a document attached to it...it's another thing and frustrating when you
send an email and you don't attach anything and AOL makes it an attachment.
You'll get an email that requires extra steps to read it.
"Another problem is that some emails sent to AOL addresses
aren't ever received. We have 7,000 Realtors on our email ListServes. Certain
of those people, including my wife, have been mysteriously not receiving
email. What they have in common is that they are all American Online users."
Scott Davis, a partner and Webmaster with Realty Times, has
noticed a similar pattern of email failure with agents who have signed up
to receive Daily Headlines. He says there are a number of reasons why an
email could fail to be delivered. "A mailbox could be full, the server
could be busy, or the server could be down. You have to look at the error
messages and see if the problem is on your end or AOL's end. The problem
we are seeing is that the AOL servers seem to be accepting the mail from
the sender, but the intended recipient never just receives it. This appears
to be a problem on AOL's end. What makes this problem so bad is that the
sender gets no indication that their email was not received."
Klein says, "They (AOL) have told us that our Real Talk
subscribers may have changed their settings and that is why they aren't
receiving the ListServe. But my wife and I didn't change any settings and
I stopped receiving my own email on my own account!"
"As a Realtor, I have to wonder, if AOL rejects that
mail, what other mail is it rejecting? I would be concerned if I were depending
on AOL for my business communications," warns Klein.
Klein believes another problem exists in the communication
AOL has with other servers. "If I wanted to send a word document and
I'm not on AOL, when you try to open the attachment it will be unintelligible.
Encryption is the problem and that is because AOL has its own protocols,
so people receive attachments that they can't read.
From a marketing standpoint, Klein believes using AOL is a
mistake for Realtors. AOL doesn't provide an email forwarding service and
any email I send from AOL will always have an AOL return address. So you
can't personalize the email.
AOL is a big part of the market and can't be ignored. About
60% of Real Talk's subscribers are on AOL. Davis estimates about 20% of
Realty Times subscribers are. So what are the alternatives?
Davis explains you have to sign up with another ISP in order
to get a POP based email account. POP stands for Post Office Protocol, the
Internet standard email protocol. POP accounts can be accessed from almost
any email client software, including Microsoft Outlook Express and Netscape
Communicator. Some ISPs also offer Web access to your email account. An
email address comes with these accounts, but most ISPs will allow you to
forward your email and allow you to set up your own domain name and use
it for your new account.
"The most important thing is no long distance charges.
Get an ISP with local numbers all over the country."
Klein adds, "By adding a POP account from another ISP
and keeping your AOL account, you (and perhaps your family) can enjoy the
functionality and community of AOL and have more flexibility in managing
your electronic business communications. I like Outlook Express. It is free
with your Internet Explorer browser. The Netscape browser package is also
All information posted on this web site is
the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
It is not to be construed as medical advice. Only a licensed medical doctor
can legally offer medical advice in the United States. Consult the healer
of your choice for medical care and advice.