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AOL spam filtering problem

I'm sure AOL mean well, but they have a problem. Although we don't like SPAM, there are sensible things to be done about it. There's no need for them to behave like zero tolerance politicians in their crusade against "terrorism"! Leaving daft political posturing aside for a while, the problem with AOL is twofold. Firstly, the spam filtering is indiscriminate, and bans honest messages, and secondly the way AOL is organised makes it difficult to get anywhere with sorting the problem out. Or at least, that's what I've found in my own experience.

Spam filtering is in principle not difficult. Spam senders make it easy for us! Although in the early days it was a matter of looking carefully at the material and making sensible judgements, I've noticed these days (2006/12) that spam is generally unintelligible nonsense with so many obfuscating features to it, it's dead easy to spot! So it is a mystery why AOL has spam filtering that banishes Zyra's Circular. Not only did it censor out the Issue99 Circular so people who had AOL e-mail addresses were deprived of the interesting and entertaining newsletter, but there was no info to that effect. It just disappeared. As I am a paranoid, I am starting to wonder if there is a secret and insidious political motive behind this! Maybe what I am saying on my website and in my intriguing newsletters is too subversive for the establishment that seeks to keep everyone under their thumb?!

The second problem is the bureaucracy. I have seen spam filtering go wrong before, at various other places, but the people who manage the software have always been very interested to get it sorted out. It's like the situation where you have bought some food from a supermarket and found there is a maggot in it; the managers are keen to give you a shopping voucher because there's something much more important going on. They want to know the batch numbers and trace info so they can improve the process and eliminate the "bug" in future! I have had good diplomatic discussions with spam filtering software experts in various places and it's worked out well, with my messages being cleared and the software being refined. In contrast, I have sad news to report about what happened with AOL and the case of Issue99 being censored out. It was as if they just wanted it to be hushed-up! The procedure I was expected to go through just to put a complaint in made loads of assumptions, including the idea that this website had an AOL account, and if not, they weren't interested.

Well we're not going to let it be HUSHED UP! I feel that AOL have deprived customers of the Circular. In effect, if you've got an AOL email address you are receiving a restricted service and missing out on good stuff which other people with other Internet Service Providers are getting! Is AOL also trying to censor the Internet? If so, they may find there is an exodus to more freedom with other Internet Service Providers

Another aspect to the "you can't put in a complaint unless you've got an AOL account" situation is that I am disallowed any appeal and aren't allowed to complain and must instead get AOL customers to complain. So, I had a solution to that! I sent a message to all of the newsletter subscribers who had AOL addresses, asking them all to put in a complaint to AOL! How many of them actually received the message is another matter, because of AOL censorship of e-mails! However, I know at least SOME of the people received the warning message. So I hope they will heed it and put in a set of complaints to AOL registering their disapproval. There is something going on which is much more important than whether AOL can competently filter out spam without falsely accusing honest sites; the matter of freedom of speech and freedom to choose to receive information from channels of your choice. Freedom on the Internet is worth fighting for, and it shouldn't be lost to monopolistic corporate interests. Check your browser! Have you still got the freedom to change your homepage?! Or, are you stuck with being spoon-fed the same silly adverts from a fixed channel?AOL

Also see How to Complain

Now don't get me wrong in my criticism of AOL. I also defend AOL's right to free speech, and I even advertise them here: Zyra's AOL dedicated page. But that's ok if there is competition in the market and if there's no unfair restriction! But if AOL are blocking my communication with their subscribers because they've got a "captive audience" there are serious diplomatic implications. It reminds me of the story about The BBC dropping transistor radios with tiny parachutes into North Korea so the people there had North Koreaa chance to hear the BBC World Service and other channels rather than only being able to listen to the state monopoly propaganda telling them in effect that the rest of the world didn't really exist and that they should feel happy to live in a totally controlled society.

But I'm sure AOL aren't really comparable to the government of North Korea! It will most likely turn out that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this, and it will all end up being amicable. I hope this happens soon!

At the time of writing this, 2006/12/07, there were NO .kp websites, revealed on a Google advanced search. No Internet in North Korea? You'd think the North Korean government would at least have a website to link to where they could express their side of the story! Even places such as Singapore and Sri Lanka, whose human rights aren't exactly great, have websites!

Update 2010 on North Korea: There now ARE a handful of .kp websites, which do indeed preach the gospel of the government of North Korea and are entirely following the government propaganda line. Interestingly, though, among the policies of North Korea, there is the idea of reunification. I wonder what South Korea thinks to that?! A handful of sites, well, it's better than nothing. It will be a while before they can catch up with South Korea though, where .kr websites total over five hundred million.

Update 2012: Although AOL is probably not a dystopia risk comparable to the government of North Korea, there is an Internet place which really IS a dystopia risk! It's Facebook. My advice is: Avoid Facebook. Down with Facebook!