April 1, 2003 1:57 PM PST

AOL wary of Comcast, Road Runner mail

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In its latest attempt to crack down on spam, America Online has started blocking what it deems to be suspicious e-mail sent by customers of Comcast's High-Speed Internet and AOL Time Warner's Road Runner broadband services.

AOL, the interactive arm of AOL Time Warner, began in the last week to reject some e-mail sent by users of those services, according to AOL. AOL and Comcast, in particular, have worked together to identify a range of Internet protocol addresses of Comcast customers who have set up their own mail server to send messages, as opposed to using Comcast's mail servers like most subscribers do.

AOL began censoring messages originating from those IP addresses, stopping designated Comcast subscribers from sending mail to AOL members.

The tactic serves to foil spammers that set up their own mail servers to send millions of unsolicited messages via Comcast's big pipes--a practice that helps better disguise the junk mail. Spammers are increasingly attracted to piggybacking on high-speed pipes to send spam because they can send more, and by using their own mail server, they can bypass the spam-detection measures that ISPs use on mail before it's sent on their networks. However, this antispam tactic can, in some cases, prevent legitimate mailers from contacting friends or colleagues with an AOL address.

"Those customers who are using their own residential mail relays to send e-mail to AOL members have been identified by their dynamically assigned IP addresses as a source of spam by our members, and we have taken action to thwart their illicit activity to protect our members' online experience," AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said.

Graham added that legitimate Internet users of AT&T/Comcast will continue to be able to send e-mail to AOL members "as long as they are using the normal channel of mail relays operated by AT&T and/or Comcast to send their e-mails."

Like many other ISPs, AOL has stepped up efforts to squelch spam in recent months as the problem has grown to epic proportions and has easily become the No. 1 nuisance to Web users. According to a December 2002 study by the Gartner Group, as much as 50 percent of all messages in a given corporate in-box are unwanted e-mail--a rate that's sure to grow.

AOL's blocking of rivals' open mail servers is the latest among many other tactics used to fight spam, such as filtering technology and lawsuits against junk mailers. Graham called it the newest "front in the war against spam and spammers." He said complaints from AOL members reached an all-time high recently about the amount of spam coming from Comcast's service and that's when AOL started working with Comcast to block those IP addresses.

Comcast said it fully supports the strategy. "Comcast is cooperating with AOL in its effort to reduce spam," Comcast spokeswoman Sarah Eder said. "We recognize that spam is an issue for all e-mail users, and we're working collectively to combat the problem."

At least one legitimate mailer complained about AOL's move. Nils Puhlmann, a Comcast subscriber, criticized AOL for interfering with small businesses or legitimate e-mail like his own. "For people who have set up a private mail server to send e-mail with a domain name that reflects their family name or their small-home based business, they cannot send one single e-mail to anyone with an @aol.com address," Puhlmann said.

"I am an active proponent of antispam measures and believe that people should be free to choose what services they want to use over their Internet connection," Puhlmann added. "Especially if they pay nearly $50 a month for that. No other Internet access or service provider should have the right to target, block or slow down traffic from competitors by range of IP addresses instead of targeting certain individuals who violate the rules and harm others."

Other antispam advocates said the measure is not uncommon, given that many ISPs share the range of IP addresses that are given to residential accounts and that are unauthorized for use with separate mail servers.

"It is a useful step in that broadband connections of all kinds are favored by spammers because they can use high-speed access to pump out more spam than ever," said Ray Everett-Church, a privacy advocate and Comcast subscriber. "So there's a real incentive to take measures that deny spammers benefit from high-speed access."

"It makes a certain amount of sense that customers who are trying to figure out technology and set up a home server might be a little ticked off. But the downsides of spammers freely using that network far outweigh that inconvenience," Everett-Church said.

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Blocking of Legitimate Email
Our small business is experiencing the same problem of "blocking". Our website has a customer request form for use by potential clients who want information about our product. Virtually all our email sent to AOL addresses is returned with a statement that our address has been identified as a sender of unsolicited email and the mail cannot be delivered. The implication associated with this statement is absolutely not true. We have not, nor do we intend to, participate in spamming. When I follow-up with a call to the potential client, I explain to them what has happened, and ask them how many times they have had people tell them "I tried to send an email to you, but...". AOL would serve their users in a responsible manner if they would institute a password or code that would allow WANTED and REQUESTED mail to reach its destination, while still protecting their clients from unsolicited mail.

I wrote to AOL in complaint of their practice. Although I haven't received a "rejected email", I also haven't received a response.
Barb Davis
Posted by london barb (1 comment )
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Users freedom to choose obliterated
I have Comcast as my internet provider. Comcast was recently acquired by Time Warner. We, the customers, were never notified that "new" anti spam procedures were being put in place.

I am recently unemployed and searching for a job... I've used my comcast address on EVERY resume I've sent out - including all the job boards I've registered on. But, as a result of the new spam filtering, I don't know how many emails I haven't received requesting that I interview for a position. I do know of a few though because when they couldn't reach me via email they actually called me on my cell phone and told me their emails were being rejected.

Comcast has even blocked my own sister, whose email address IS IN MY COMCAST ADDRESS BOOK. This is when I first became aware of the problem because she contacted my husband to let him know she couldn't get any email through to me.

I don't think it is Comcast's (or Time Warner's) right to decide who I am and am not allowed to get email from. Isn't that why they give you the ability to define what is and is not junk mail. I feel my rights have been infringed upon and because of it I may have lost valuable job opportunities/employment income.

Has anyone else been harmed by Time Warner's GOD complex - believing they have the right to decide who we get email from and who we don't. If US Mail carriers did this it would be considered a criminal offense.

I'm looking for other people who would be willing to come forward and a good lawyer who is interested in filing a class action suit again Time Warner. Please feel free to respond here or email me at alexhowell@hotmail.com (because you probably won't be able to get through to my comcast address) with your stories... include "Sue Time Warner" in the subject of your email so I know it's not spam (hotmail allows us to decide what we do and do not want to read).
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