The debate over AOL's use of "certified" email as an anti-spam defense mechanism grew more pointed Thursday afternoon, as a protest group claimed emails sent using the group's web address were first blocked, then permitted after protests.
DearAOL.com, made up of businesses, non-profits, and advocacy groups, said Thursday that individual emails sent containing its URL were apparently blocked by AOL's spam filter. An email sent by PC Magazine to an AOL account also confirmed this.
AOL, for its part, claimed that the blockage was due to a glitch on its part, which was rectified later Thursday afternoon.
In March, opposition grew to AOL's "certified email" plan, which was allegedly designed to force mass marketers, or spammers, to pay a small fee per email to route them to AOL customers. While AOL claimed that the service would help deter spam by identifying the original source of emails, the DearAOL consortium claimed the filter would, over time, force most commercial email to use the system, essentially taxing them for bulk emails.
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said Friday morning that emails containing roughly fifty to sixty domain names, not just DearAOL, were blocked during a routine upgrade of an undisclosed piece of software on the company's servers. Graham said he did not know which piece of software was upgraded, and declined to provide the names of other domains which were affected.
Timothy Karr, who directs the DearAOL effort, claimed that the glitch was an indication that the certified email system wouldn't be effective because of AOL's inability to manage it correctly. The "certified email" system has yet to be launched, AOL's Graham said.
"AOL wants us to believe they won't hurt free email when their pay-to-send system is up and running," Karr said. "But if AOL is willing to censor the flow of information now to silence their critics, how could anyone trust that they will preserve the free and open internet down the road? Their days of saying 'trust us' are over – their credibility is gone."
The glitch was discovered late Wednesday, and fixed by early Thursday, Graham said, who added that since the DearAOL.com protest was launched in March, AOL has delivered "millions and millions" of emails correctly.