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Dealing with False AOL Spam Reports? 371

aohell-guy asks: "I handle the mail servers for a business that has 20% of our members using AOL. We regularly send out email that our members have agreed to receive. In AOL 8.0, it was possible to click a single message and report it as spam. You would be prompted to confirm the spam report, although no details explaining what happens with the report are given to the user. Through AOL's Postmaster site, it is possible to get in on the spam 'Feedback Loop,' where AOL will send you the spam reports it receives for mail sent from your servers. When you receive a report, you are supposed to immediately cease the sending of email to that AOL address. The only problem is, we have found that most of the time the AOL users are reporting our email as spam on accident! These complaints can negatively impact your ability to send email to AOL members. How are you handling the false reports?"
"In version 9.0, AOL made two incredibly stupid mistakes which make false positive spam reports skyrocket. First is they now allow their users to select multiple messages at once and report them all as spam. Second, when you hit the spam report button (which is located DIRECTLY next to the delete button), it IMMEDIATELY files the spam report -- there is no confirmation required. Sure, the AOL user can see they made a mistake and move your email back out of their spam folder...but the report is still filed against your server. Rack up enough of these reports, and you will not be able to send mail to AOL. We have had plenty of complaints come in, and we delete their accounts as they do -- except with our paying members. We ask them if they really want to cancel? In ALL cases but one, we have received replies stating it was an accident.

We have spoken to people within AOL that deal with the mail. (Amazingly, it is not too hard to speak with them if you are a business sending email to AOL users.) The ones we've spoken to are not happy with these changes in AOL 9.0, and admit they result in many false positives.

If you are sending a lot of email to AOL users, you will want to get in on their feedback loop ASAP, and also look into getting on AOL's 'whitelist,' which ensures that your mail will not be silently filtered into the bit bucket, as long as you keep your mail bounces and spam reports (ahem!) at a low level."
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Dealing with False AOL Spam Reports?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:51PM (#8663974)
    Who would've thought that possible.
    • by Moonpie Madness ( 764217 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:00AM (#8664039)
      Dont be too hard on AOL, if it weren't for that sore thumb '' it'd be a lot harder for me to identify dummies out there. dumb people are simply a fact of life, and they deserve to get some internet access. a spoon feeding paternalistic service is great for them, and worth the money, and they give a lot of their money (more loosely than most) to a lot of internet businesses, though i have to admit they arent really much effect on the Linux community
      • It's not AOL users, it's simply the way we interact with email now-a-days. You can't trust "unsubscribe" links, as all they do is confirm that you read your email. :P

        Sure, at one point they might have opted in, but people forget or get tired of getting your newsletters or even the occasional guilty-by-association of simply looking like a professional email (as in, from a company) instead of a personal email.

        So don't bash AOL users ... for this reason anyway. ;)

        • You can't trust "unsubscribe" links, as all they do is confirm that you read your email. :P

          I know this reply is too late to bed modded anything, but I'll say it anyway.

          Last August, I had been getting way too much spam in my main mailbox. I had heard that unsubscribing just backfired and gives you even more mail, so I never did it. Then, after deleting 15-30 spam messages per day-- every day-- I decided that the spam couldn't get too much worse than this (yes, I know it can, but the point is I was sick

    • by l810c ( 551591 ) * on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:38AM (#8664667)
      Not only are they Clueless, but your typical AOL user has:

      A Short Flaccid Penis
      A High Mortgage Rate
      High Insurance Rates
      A Hugh Amount of Debt
      No Online Diplomas
      Does Not work from home..

  • by eaglebtc ( 303754 ) * on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:52PM (#8663984)
    Unfortunately you're dealing with AOL, a company that has always been a few cents short of a dollar. There's probably not much you can do. Sorry this isn't helpful, but it's not your fault they placed the Junk button so close to the delete button.
    • by arglesnaf ( 454704 ) * on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:41AM (#8664334)
      As a matter of fact AOL handles this quite reasonably. The secret is reverse resolution.

      I am postmaster and in the IT security department of a fortune 150 Office Supply company. We started to experience this problem, and contacted AOL. We were added to the whitelist, set up the feedback loop yet we kept getting blacklisted. Spoke with a tech who told us to call the corporate phone number and speak with the "Spam Czar" whose name I cannot recall and cannot locate via google.

      After speaking with him we discovered we were still getting blacklisted after around five complaints, when we send thousands of order confirmations to AOL addresses a day. They tracked down the problem, and it was that one of our mail servers did not reverse resolve. We fixed this, and bam, we now take nearly a hundred complaints to be blacklisted.

      (You wouldn't believe how many people flag an order confirmation as spam. You also wouldn't believe how many corporate employees forward there email to AOL and flag it as spam, when they forwarded the spam to themselves!)

      It was quite embaressing that we were not reverse resolving the host that sends order confirmations. We do send some opt-in marketing, but it originates from a different server.

      (Our marketing you opt into while ordering, don't flame me, we do not purchase lists!)
      • what do you mean by "reverse resolving" ?
        I've never heard the term...
        • by LordWoody ( 187919 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:06AM (#8664460) Homepage
          Reverse DNS, eg: ->
          forward DNS: ->

        • Reverse DNS, when you look up an IP and get its PTR name. Like gives localhost on most machines.

          It is important that your mail server has a reverse lookup that resolves to a name where a postmaster can be contacted. It is also a very good idea, to have that name also forward resolve to the same IP (even if other names also resolve to that same IP).
        • by Surazal ( 729 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:21AM (#8664568) Homepage Journal
          I had to deal with this issue a lot while working as a system administrator at the last company I worked at.

          I don't know about other domain name servers (like Microsoft's offerings, for instance), but I know in BIND, it's not only necessary to set up the forward resolution of a hostname, for instance:


          It's also necessary to explicitly set this up too:


          The reason it's necessary to define the reverse hostname resolution is because a hostname may resolve to the same IP address as several, or even hundreds of other hostnames. Rob Malda could have,, all to the same IP address. But the IP address can only reverse-resolve to one hostname by definition. So, you define both the forward lookups and reverse lookups explicitly so that your company network can run smoothly without anyone knoiwing the major hack you just pulled to *get* the thing running. :^)

          Sometimes, though, even seasoned admins forget to put in the reverse-lookup rules in there as a matter of oversight. For this reason you see a lot of automated scripts at ISP's that handle hostname maintanance for you.

          And, unfortunately, they didn't have this set up at my last job.

          (story, boss wants a new server set up, I have to make a phone call to set up the new IP address and hostname to our system adminsitrators at the data center)

          Me: "Can you get hostname blah.blah.blah pointing to"
          Other Guy: "Sure! Will be going in a few hours or so"
          Me: "No problem"

          Three hours later...

          Me: "Um, I wanted the reverse-lookup tables set up, too."
          Other Guy: "What? Why do you need reverse lookup tables?"
          Me: "Because half the network applications ever written since the inception of the internet require that be done *every time*. Just like the last 7 times I asked you to do this."

          Yeah, I hated my last job. :^)
          • cool, thanks for the detailed explaination!
          • by Lost Race ( 681080 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @03:50AM (#8665207)
            But the IP address can only reverse-resolve to one hostname by definition.
            No, one IP address can resolve to many hostnames.
            1 ptr
            1 ptr
            1 ptr

            % host
   domain name pointer
   domain name pointer
   domain name pointer
            Similarly one hostname can resolve to multiple IP addresses.
            % host
   has address
   has address
   has address
   has address
   has address
   has address
      • by Glug ( 153153 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @02:45AM (#8664990)
        (Our marketing you opt into while ordering, don't flame me, we do not purchase lists!)

        Not a flame, just letting you know: If I place an order with a company, I never check any boxes that opt me in to receive advertising. If I get "defaulted" to receiving ads and do receive some later, then I report the spam to the company's upstream and, obviously, I never buy anything from that company again. You might check to see whether your order forms try to "default" people into receiving spam or not - it is possible that the opt-in list that your marketing department thinks it has accumulated is not an opt-in list at all, and that people are reporting your company's email as spam because your company is in fact sending them unsolicited bulk email.
      • Staples = Spammers (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Spoing ( 152917 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @08:42AM (#8666018) Homepage
        1. I am postmaster and in the IT security department of a fortune 150 Office Supply company.

        If that's true, and you work for Staples, can you get me off of your spam lists? I've done everything including calling by phone and all I get is "yes, you will be a few weeks" -- even after I said that I'd start reporting the spam as spam! (Very much bending over backward here as this is not my normal tactic for UCE.)

        After about 6 months of that I gave up and just report the Staples spam along with the rest.

        If you work for Office Depot or Office MAX or ... no problems! Keep up the good work!

  • by Xshare ( 762241 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:53PM (#8663993) Homepage
    My emails get routed to null at aol as well. Really sucks when trying to contact a client who uses AOL. Get the owner of the box (root access, some stupid AOL rule) to call the AOL Postmaster, stay on hold a bit, and you can get it all sorted out.
    • by Thing I am ( 761900 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:03AM (#8664061) Journal
      Stay on hold a bit? The first time I called, I was on hold for 25 minutes. The second time was a bit less, 18 minutes. The loop of music they play sucks too.
    • Periodically my personal (not bulk) mail to AOL addresses (which includes is bounced with an extremely rude message saying that my server has been banned because of "too many complaints about my ISP". There is absolutely no way suggested to get a message through, no email address for enquiries and the webpage referenced doesn't even mention the error number they give. So I call my ISP who say they're dealing with it, and it's fixed a few days later. Then a week later, it happens again. Why don
      • I'm pretty sure it's email worms from infected users setting off their alarms, is it really so hard to filter these

        Is it really so hard for *your* ISP to filter these before they pollute someone else's network? You ISP's mail server should be filtering for these, and they should be blocking outbound port 25 from clients unless specifically requested by the client.

        I have no problem with folks sending their own mail out if they know what they're doing, and they specifically request it. But I have a HUGE pr
  • You asked.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Smitedogg ( 527493 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:54PM (#8663995) Homepage

    I think you've done all you can. I would even go so far as to say that you've answered your own question. Call AOL, make sure they know you're legit, and wait for the next version of AOL to fix what turned out to be a bad design choice. In the meantime, maybe add a note to one of your mailings suggesting that they make sure to be careful about that. It's not like you can do anything else.

    • Since AOL doesn't tell the senders or the intended recipients that it's dropping emails, you need to get your *own* AOL account that you can use to make sure your emails are going through, and at least check it occasionally for Quality Assurance. Annoying, but if you're trying to deal with moderately high volumes, or smaller volumes of people who are paying you money, you probably should be doing it. I don't know if there's any way to automate your AOL system to autoforward your postings to your regular
  • no chance for us... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wo1verin3 ( 473094 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:54PM (#8663998) Homepage
    I work in a tech support environment dealing with end users, many using AOL. The e-mails we sent out come from the same or a similar address, and all have a similar format such as opening and closing, AOL seems to 'randomly' block them. I know it's really not random, but trying to figure it out is next to impossible.
    • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:59AM (#8664422) Homepage
      A few years ago, AOL was known to block all mail from random domains to lower its server load when things got overloaded. I see no reason to think they've stopped.
      • by jCaT ( 1320 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @03:56AM (#8665227)
        Plenty of mail servers do this. In practice I've seen both AOL and Yahoo mail do this at certain times during the day. The thing is, the way the email is "blocked" does not cause it to never get delivered... it is just delayed. The mail just gets a deferred, and it is up to the mail server to try sending it again until it is accepted by the remote server.

        The implications are that the message is not delivered *IMMEDIATELY*, but it will get there... just late.
  • When I hear incredibly stupid mistake about AOL, it's like hearing the word patch associated with M$.

    Seriously a spam report is the least of AOL's problem. As soon as the rest of the internet noobs figure out how to use the internet via a regular ISP, AOL is history.
  • by Grey Ninja ( 739021 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:56PM (#8664007) Homepage Journal
    Just put "Enlarge your Member" in the subject line. It NEVER gets marked as spam in my experience. I sell about 200 pounds of snake oil a day to AOL users.
  • Lucky clients... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lukewarmfusion ( 726141 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:57PM (#8664017) Homepage Journal
    "The only problem is, we have found that most of the time the AOL users are reporting our email as spam on accident!"

    Sure... on "accident."

    Seriously - I'm not sure what business you're in, but do your clients really need to be using AOL? Could be worse, I guess. It could be Netzero. Still, I have a few clients that are AOL customers, and the host of problems that they've faced has been enough to convince them to switch.

    Connections, mail problems, whatever.
    • by Unholy_Kingfish ( 614606 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:53AM (#8664405) Homepage
      Seriously - I'm not sure what business you're in, but do your clients really need to be using AOL?

      I am not sure about what he means by clients, but we have this problem with customers. One of the sites I manage [] , sends out an email conformation for the order, a CC card conformation from the processor (not my choice) and then an email when the order is shipped. Plus we send out a newsletter about every 3-4 months. Pretty reasonable right? We don't spam, we don't sell lists. Our emails do not get through to AOL subscribers. Why? because people repost them as spam, whether it is intentional or not. We get many phone calls from cranky customers complaining they didn't get their email. But those same people are reporting those emails as spam. About 20% of our base is on AOL. Most of them are new moms/housewives on AOL. They have no clue what they are doing. Plus they don't care that they have no clue and take it out on us. AOL needs to do something about this. Having to contact AOL on a regular basis to reverse something dumb that their customers are doing is unreasonable. Spam is a problem, no argument with that. But when legit emails do not get through because of false reports, who's fault is it? Who should fix it? Who has the time?

      • by goldfndr ( 97724 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @05:00AM (#8665384) Homepage Journal
        You might already be doing this, but if you aren't, I suggest:

        Mention the exact date/time/site/address they used.

        For the newsletter, where it mentions that they opted in, don't merely mention the "fact" that they did. Also include the exact date/time (adjusted to their local time if possible, only need to do that once) and URL they used. If it's from a "partner", name the partner's website and date/time. Just a few more bytes per customer. And if you can do a reverse-lookup on their IP address, that's even better.

        For an order, the short descriptive name of the most expensive item should be included in the subject line, e.g. "Your order for Embroidered Organza Dress and...", as this should instantly jog anyone's memory.

        Ideally the date/time/site/address would be in both body and header (e.g. X-Subscribed-From, X-Subscribed-At - I wonder if there's a standard?). I hope you're already doing this.

  • by LupusUF ( 512364 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:58PM (#8664022)
    Unfortunately there is not much you can do except listen to them. Even if you think someone reported you on accident, drop them from the list. If they complain later, simply supply them with a copy of the e-mail that you were sent by AOL saying that you were reported by them as SPAM. This is an annoying solution, but you don't want to get added to AOL's spam list. It is VERY difficult to get taken off once you have been put on. You can even spin it in a positive light if you get complaints from users asking why they no longer get e-mail from you. Say that you are aggressively opposed to spam, and stop sending mail at the first sign that your letters are unwanted.

    The only other thing I could think of is maybe put a note in the messages of your AOL users asking them to contact AOL and fix their policy. The chances of this working are beyond slim, but it will make it appear to your users that you are trying to serve them the best that you can.
    • Maybe anecdotal, but one of my servers was once accidently added to AOL's spam list, and although it took about 2 days, I was able to get removed from their list fairly easily. So yes, it is possible, but the better thing is obviously to never get put on it to begin with.
    • by circusnews ( 618726 ) <steven AT stevensantos DOT com> on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:40AM (#8664326) Homepage
      The only other thing I could think of is maybe put a note in the messages of your AOL users asking them to contact AOL and fix their policy. The chances of this working are beyond slim, but it will make it appear to your users that you are trying to serve them the best that you can.

      I have found having 20 or 30 AOL users call AOL's tech support screaming about AOL bouncing importiant mail as spam gets you off the list fairly quickly.

  • by Keighvin ( 166133 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2004 @11:59PM (#8664031)
    I used to work for a (legit) marketing firm, and had this same issue with AOL. They were technologically savvy enough thought, and had enough latitude with the membership services, that we set up aliased email accounts on our own servers for our subscribers. This dramatically cut down on our false-positives after we asked filters to be set up by our clients to get them into the right place to begin with (i.e., different folder).

    Your mileage may very, and not everyone has the option to ask that kind of technical activity of their clients, so we lucked out. Might want to give it a try though.
  • by tramm ( 16077 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:00AM (#8664037) Homepage
    I run several projects on SourceForge, including autopilot [], that have had all of the AOL subscribers removed from the mailing lists due to spam bounces. Since so many AOL users receive mail from SourceForge hosted mailing lists, it does not take many accidentally clicking the spam button to blacklist the SF servers.

    I submitted a support request [] to SF about it, and they said (rightfully) that it is AOL's problem.

  • by m0rb0 ( 708781 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:01AM (#8664051)
    I work for an independt-regional isp, and often have to serve as the conduit for users who cannot e-mail AOL. Quite simply, I have to spend 20-30min each time with customer support to have our ip addresses "removed" from their abuse list. If there IS a better solution, I have not found it yet!

  • At some point in my history... I was using pine, and sending mail. I set name using chfn "first I last", though my memory could be foggy and it could have been "first I. last". This wasn't a problem for any mail server except for AOL... for some reason it wouldn't parse correctly and try to send mail to "first"

    Dispite honest efforts trying to get a hold of the mail staff, by my self and my isp... at no point was it possible to actually report the problem to anyone.

    The final solution was ju
  • My experience... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ptomblin ( 1378 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:05AM (#8664073) Homepage Journal
    I run a bunch of Mailman mailing lists. One time, one of the people on this mailing list false SpamCop-ed one of the monthly mailing list reminders, which caused my ISP to complain to me. I kicked him off the mailing list and told him he couldn't come back until he'd convinced my ISP that the spam report was in error. I don't think he ever did come back on, but fortunately the ISP didn't kick me off - perhaps it's giving RoadRunner too much credit, but even *they* must realize the huge false positive rate from SpamCop.

  • This happened to me. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cmburns69 ( 169686 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:09AM (#8664101) Homepage Journal
    Actually, I'm not sure I ever received any spam reports against my server. But it was terrible getting whitelisted. They directed me to call a certain number that didn't work 1/2 the time, and I had to wait on hold for at least 30 minutes.

    All to tell them that my server wasn't blocked. They told me it wasn't. I told them that was the error I was receiving. They told me my server wasn't on the list.

    Eventually I mentioned that my server was in Rackshacks datacenter. Apparently they had banned a whole range of IP addresses, and their utilities didn't show if an IP were in that list.

    So after a very frustrating conversation, they whitelisted me. Any way, I don't know how this helps you, but it feels good to vent!
  • EmailOK field (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kris_J ( 10111 ) * on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:10AM (#8664110) Homepage Journal
    For our database at work we have an EmailOK field. If an email bounces or otherwise doesn't get to the recipient as expected, the email address is tagged as suspect and a message is sent using another method of communication indicating that the email we currently have needs to be replaced or re-confirmed. Any process that sends emails is supposed to look at the EmailOK field and only send if it's empty or Y. (Other values are N for not okay and O for over quota, you could add an R or S for reported as spam.)

    We have an IT meeting soon where I will be leading a discussion about on-line communications. I will be suggesting that we don't accept all email addresses from Hotmail (so many bounce with user unknown or over quota) and "hanmail" (incoming messages get tagged as spam because of the HTML that the service wraps user messages in), and that we start recording IM accounts as a backup communications option. I'm not saying we refuse emails from Hotmail accounts, I'm just saying that when you tell us your address, we won't accept a Hotmail address.

  • if ($emailaddress =~ / {
    • Re:solution (Score:2, Informative)

      by Green Light ( 32766 )
      I hope you know that you are now filtering out all mail from aolacom! Not to mention aolecom, aolucom, ... oh forget it.

      Maybe you meant /aol\.com/i for the RE?
  • Most likely they signed up for the newsletter by accident and now they don't want it anymore.

    When I get newseletters that claim I signed up for them, the first things I utterly avoid are reading them and following any links or instructions in them.

    So, just stop sending email to people who obviously don't want it anymore; consider the spam report as unsubscribe requests.
  • First your message should say "This message is part of your subscription, which you signed up for on mm/dd/yyyy." If you have anything else than this as the first line of your message, you're asking for it.

    But this is nothing. I run a mail server and I set up accounts which auto forward to AOL accounts. The users would spread their address everywhere, and when spammers would spam it, it would forward to AOL and they'd mark it as junk, and AOL would block ME since *I* sent it to them - makes
  • You're F***ed. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 )
    The only problem is, we have found that most of the time the AOL users are reporting our email as spam on accident!

    My personal opinion is that since AOL caters to the lowest element, that's what their users tend to be. If you're in a situation where you have to send business emails to someone using an AOL address, perhaps you should try to persuade them to get a yahoo address as well.

    Unless you're willing/able to hire someone to work full time on dealing with the idiots who requested your emails and them
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We have 125,000 AOL users (including 3,000 Compuserve) who are marked in our DB as hold due to being blocked by AOL mail servers. These are opt-in lists for product updates and news letters. People have to jump through hoops just to get on to the list in the first place. It's not worth the hassle to us. If this makes a large number of AOL customers unhappy, then they should change ISP. We're providing a service, but the goodwill it garners is only worth so much when the issues of dealing with AOL becom
  • by titaniam ( 635291 ) * <> on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:20AM (#8664206) Homepage Journal
    When I realized over a year ago that spam was starting to be a huge headache for me, I started saving all my spam and good mail to separate directories, in preparation for using a Bayesian filter. At that time I was getting 20 per day, now I get 350, of which a few make it to my inbox. Anyway, I read Paul Graham's plan for spam and decided to write my own filter, and built in a feature where it would check my classification. Lo and behold, about 5% of the mail I classified was identified by my filter as being incorrectly classified. The filter was correct in almost all cases - I was either misinterpreting the emails or ending up saving them to the wrong directories after correctly categorizing them. Now, whenever someone wants to use my filter, I first require them to classify by hand all their mail for a few weeks. Once they run my program they are amazed - they can't believe they made so many mistakes, and they are instant believers in the power of Bayesian filters. My point is that in implementing these spam reports, the ISPs MUST take human error into account, and only penalize mass-senders if over (roughly) 5% of a given sender's recipients complains.
  • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:21AM (#8664218) Homepage Journal
    Simple solution, don't send email to AOL users unless it's critical. Sure, they may have 'agreed' to recive it, but do they really need your newsletter or whatever? My guess is that they don't.

    If you have a web service, set things up so that users are notified about messages when they log on. If they are not AOL users, then also mail them.

    Simple solution. Honestly I'd much prefer if all of the mail in my mailbox was from individuals who actualy wanted to say something to me personaly.
  • The only problem is, we have found that most of the time the AOL users are reporting our email as spam on accident!

    Quit sending AOL accounts email. Tell them that the daily/weekly/monthly newsletter is on the web site, they want to read it, vist the site.

    Simple, no?

  • Thought about faxing or snail mailing them instead?
  • by baddogatl ( 164976 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:28AM (#8664268)
    I had a problem with a customer who wanted all of his email to be forwarded to his AOL account and then repeatedly marked it all as spam without notifying us that there was a problem.

    The result: our server was blocked as a spam relay.

    AOL helped correct this quickly, but when I emailed the customer to let him know what happened he flagged my emails as spam and our servers were blocked again!

    Our customer wasn't returning calls so I disabled his account. After that he was very willing to contact me to speak about things :)
  • Small lists too... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dcigary ( 221160 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:32AM (#8664287) Homepage
    I run a small (~200 user) mailing list for my homeowner's association, and I've been fighting the AOL Spam filters for years. From what I can tell, the process of notifying AOL that your email is indeed something that users have signed up for and WANT is near impossible. I'm almost to the point of telling the HOA that we can't accept AOL accounts any more, as nothing gets through. I've also had the same experience with Time Warner Roadrunner, EarthLink and others as well... What I find MOST disturbing is that on AOL the user NEVER receives the email, nor a notification that something was rejected. Ignorance is bliss as far as AOL is concerned, and they like keeping their users in the dark.
    • by ameoba ( 173803 )
      It's perfectly understandable, tho... I mean, really... what's the difference between getting 100 spams per day and getting 100 "we blocked some spam' messages?
  • Of course, you must save the user's most recent record of agreeing to receive email from you and submit that to AOL to refute their report.

  • by eggboard ( 315140 ) * on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:42AM (#8664339) Homepage
    It's one thing to run aggressive spam reporting filters. It's another to have no procedure that can get you out of the doghouse. My father and I run a very very small commercial service for monitoring the rank of various books at Amazon that's sold to authors. They pay for the service. It's double opt-in. We keep records of each sign-up and each opt-in confirmation, as well as payment records.

    AOL banned our URL but not our email. The error said the URL in our messages couldn't be sent to AOL addresses. We contacted our three (yes, just three) AOL subscribers and asked them to try to use AOL's tools to make sure our email went through, but they didn't have any options that helped.

    I contacted AOL, spoke to a guy who believed what I had to say, and I sent email including a variety of details to a Yahoo (ironic) address that they obvious use for disposable purposes and change from time to time. No response. A week later, I email there again as a follow-up. No response.

    So what are we to do? Convince AOL subscribers to switch to another ISP? Nope.
    • I had a related problem with Yahoo a couple of years ago.

      My aunt sent me and several other people an inflammatory forward which, among other things, compared Sept 11th to the Holocaust, claimed the Afghanistan wedding party which was bombed was to blame for their own demise, and criticized the Palestinians for their widely broadcast and falsified celebration of Sept 11th. I replied that three thousand sudden unexpected deaths can't be compared to six million deaths through torture and medical experiments

  • by Bug-Y2K ( 126658 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:45AM (#8664355) Homepage
    I work for a colo/hosting outfit. I also read the "abuse@*" address here. I found out about this system at AOL back in November, and spent a few weeks working my way through the postmaster group at AOL. I finally did get a really clued guy, who did a lot to help out... however, the system is so completely flawed that there isn't much that can be done to fix it.

    Easily 98% of their reported "spams" are false positives. I've collected the 10,000 or so rejected mails and They break down like this:

    40% are auto-mails from some website notification system
    (example: one of our clients is an "aprtment finding service" that you sign up and I assume pay for. It notifies you if an apartment that meets your needs becomes available, via email.)
    30% are mailing list traffic
    10% are confirmation emails for ecommerce purchases!
    10% are *personal correspondence!*
    8% are actual spam, but being legitimately forwarded to an AOL address via a domain hosted by us, but whose user has configured it to forward to an AOL address.
    2% is who knows what.

    To have a system that fundamentally flawed is amazing. I don't use AOL... in fact I've never even seen what it looks like, so I don't know if this is *user* generated or auto-generated, but I do know it just doesn't work.
  • My bitch about AOL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkHelmet ( 120004 ) * <> on Thursday March 25, 2004 @12:55AM (#8664410) Homepage
    Ah God... AOL is a complete and total bitch when it comes to detecting spam.

    My project Slashster, being a Friendster clone per se, sends out email recommendations from people on the site to others inviting them to join the site.

    I found with Yahoo and Hotmail, that typically altering the email message not to include any sort of links (other than possibly without the http://), typically allows the message to go through the filter. After all, most spam messages include some kind of tracking url in order to show where they came from. Right?

    Not so with AOL. Pretty much any sort of attempt I do of sending an email through it have it flag up as spam. I suppose what happened was that someone hit the spam button for my site, and it was blacklisted.

    It is possible to get whitelisted though. But you have to contact AOL in order to be part of the whitelist. You also need to fill out an application saying how many emails you plan on sending out a day, whatnot.

    What kind of crap is this? I mean, they don't actually expect us to fill out an application for EVERY ISP out there that wants to lower spam. Ugh. Do I have to honestly write Hotmail, Yahoo, Earthlink, AOL, Adelphia, Comcast, and every other ISP / email provider out there to say "Hey, I'm not spam. Don't block me." or is there a better way? I doubt there's anything better.

    It gets on my nerves, especially considering that I've started receiving mass emails from people who have invited me to Orkut. I haven't even joined that site yet, and of course, any sort of message from them does *NOT* show up as spam... Figures.

    Note: I know some of you saying that sending Social Networking emails would be considered spam. I'm not sure if it could, after all, it's not the same email sent out to thousands of people. It's rather, one person sending another person a message, through my server. I know some of you will disagree, but eh.

  • by ErichTheWebGuy ( 745925 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:05AM (#8664457) Homepage
    I have had my mail servers IPs blocked 4 times by AOL. Every time, it was because some of our franchisees or other legitimate business contacts have falsely reported our mail as spam.

    The best thing you can do is to call the postmaster number, remain calm, and be patient with the person on the other end. Also, send out reminders to your members or whatever that if they report your legit mailings as spam, they will be missing out on important announcements etc.

    It is important to remember that you are dealing with AOL and AOL members, so it is necessary to use 1-2 syllable words and speak slowly, often repeating complex concepts like 'Delete' vs. 'Report Spam'. Given time, the problem eases up a bit, but will never go away as long as AOL has this system in place.
  • by m3000 ( 46427 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:06AM (#8664461)
    The school I'm going to, University of Florida [] has been having it's headaches with spam for this same reason. It sends out a weekly newsletter about what is going on in the university, important dates, events, that kind of thing. It's sent out to everyone's university appointed email address ( but people can then have that forwarded to their AOL address.

    Now some people don't like this weekly thing (which is somewhat important so students get needed information, but whatever. When you're a student here, you get the email.), and so they mark it as spam when they get it, or else they do the accidental spam report thing. AOL then sees all these "spam" mail coming from addresses, and promptly blocks ALL email from any address. This has happened 3 times now, and each time the university system adminstrator has had to go through a ton of hoops to get it back in the clear. Meanwhile everyone using an AOL account doesn't get teacher emails, club announcements that they signed up for, and any sort of personal mail that someone sends from their account.

    Hopefully AOL will get it's act together. In the meantime they're trying to get people to stop having their mail forwarded to AOL accounts, but of course even college educated people want to use AOL, for whatever god forsaken reason.
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:09AM (#8664478) Homepage
    Years ago, I realized how AOL works: it walks around with a gun in each hand. Each gun points at one of its own feet. Then, at random intervals, it pulls one or both triggers. AOL shooting it in the foot isn't news; AOL managing not to shoot itself in the foot would be news indeed.
  • I gave up trying to work with AOL over a year ago. Now, whenever a new client signs up for our service and they tell me they use AOL, I suggest they go with another ISP. I explain to them that the weekly reports we send to our customers get to them by 8 AM the next day unless they're an AOL customer in which case it's a craps shoot as to whether they'll get the email or not.

    They usually blow me off until the third or fourth time they call wondering why they haven't received their weekly status report at wh

  • From the subscriber side of things it can be just as frustrating. My ISP (a national one) is swallowing up posts from mailing lists. Some of them aren't that busy, and I'm on digest mode, so it took me several weeks to notice they weren't coming in.

    I've tried to get my ISP to unblock the posts, but as a subscriber I have no standing to make a formal request. The list master says they get no bounce messages, which the ISP requires postmasters to send them in order to get off the block list.


  • If you agree to the terms of business with some online site, and part of there terms is that thyey, or anyone they do business with can send you emails it is NOT spam.
    Spam is not something you do not like, it's getting something you has no dealing with.

    Don't like? don't agree to the service.

    Once again proving that spam is not as bad as people make it out to be. The problem is lack of user knowledge and education.
    • Re:remember kids (Score:4, Interesting)

      by the arbiter ( 696473 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @02:56AM (#8665035)
      Well, here's the awful truth. Frequently, I'll buy something from a site, and as part of that purchase they'll make the completely unrealistic demand that I agree to receive emails from anyone they deem fit to sell the address to, or maybe even just from themselves whenever they like.

      But, I don't want these emails. Just the product, thanks. I know where to find them should I need more. But this sentiment is not respected. They want to maximize their sales at any cost, and damn my peace of mind.

      Now, I do realize, fully, that I agreed to this condition as part of the purchase.

      And, well, that's too bad. I'm sure I'll spend some time in hell roasting for it, but I have absolutely no intention of honoring that commitment. It's unrealistic to assume that anyone would want to do so. Be realistic, not idealistic, I say.

      So, I report the unwanted mails as spam. Every time. And, in all seriousness, I hope it causes them a tremendous amount of expense and hassle to resolve it. If they have to do this enough times, perhaps they'll think of a new method of doing business that doesn't piss off their customers so much.

      Remember, for this is what business still lives and dies by: The customer is really always right.

      If your customers report your "newsletters", "reminders", etc., as spam, they're not stupid, they're not doing it because of an "AOL design flaw" and they're not doing it by accident. They consider them as spam. You should respect the obvious message you're being sent, their clear message that you're to leave them alone, and take the proper and decent course of action. Stop sending these folks mail. If they want it, they'll tell you loud and clear.

      Good luck. Business is not easy. Don't make it harder on yourself than you have to.
      • Re:remember kids (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ironica ( 124657 )
        Well, here's the awful truth. Frequently, I'll buy something from a site, and as part of that purchase they'll make the completely unrealistic demand that I agree to receive emails from anyone they deem fit to sell the address to, or maybe even just from themselves whenever they like.

        You're buying from the wrong places. Reputable, decent vendors give you the opportunity to opt out of any third-party or even first-party non-transaction-related emails. Ever since I bought something online from Macy's, I
  • by Grimster ( 127581 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @01:54AM (#8664769) Homepage
    As a web host, we have a BIG problem with AOL just blocking us on a whim, and when you don't get any sort of bounce or refusal from their end your email server THINKS it delivered email properly. Meaning we don't know it's happening until the complaints start.

    I host a little over 13,000 web sites, on over 60 servers. We allow people to run CGI and PHP (I mean people wouldn't like it much if we didn't) and as a result we do get the occasional open formmail.cgi or formmail.php being used to spam. We usually catch them pretty fast and it doesn't happen "that" often. But it happens, and before we can stop it there might be several thousand emails sent. Which is enough to get us on AOL's block, we've been silently placed on their block roughly 7 times now. The thing is EACH TIME I signup for this "in the loop" mailing so I am SUPPOSED to get a warning as soon as spam is reported from one of my servers, ok fine, know what? Not one warning, not a single one, and we were still blocked 6 more times after that.

    I applaud AOL's efforts at stopping spam, but they've got to get it to be a little less troublesome.

    I will say, we haven't been blocked in a couple months now, so MAYBE we're finally on the white list "for real" so here's hoping things ARE improving.

    I like earthlink's challenge response better, I'll get a couple of these per day, some are from spam with my domain forged, most are from things like invoices/reciepts/other business, I click the link and jump through the hoops and from then on things seem to flow to that email account from our billing or forum system.
    • Ummm... I had the same problem at an ISP I worked as the SA. (RE: cgi and php scripts). We had a very easy solution to that problem that was inplemented after the second time we ended up on AOL's blacklist due to a spammer getting ahold of an open formail.cgi script.

      A simple cron job to parse all user website directories for formail.cgi and formail.php scripts which then rm -f'd the offending script, and logged which web site contained the script.

      We would then send an email to all the customers caught
  • And I accidentally did that last week; its real easy... Checking my email, saw the topmost message was spam, hit the topmost checkbox, and clicked the spam button. I do it so often, I barely thought about it. Until I realized the topmost checkbox was for "Check All", and I had just told Yahoo that a bunch of personal non-spam emails were spam. Oops.

    Very annoying to have no confirmation prompt at ALL when you are sending 50 messages at once to the spam processor... It really is a bad UI decision. And once i
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I regularly get bounced spam virus reports from AOL because a virus somewhere forged my headers. Unfortunately, I cannot complain to AOL because AOL blocks my cable modem IP address because it is residential.

    So AOL can send mail to me, but won't let me complain back.

    I am collecting up a few of these. I am going to bill AOL with a nice official invoice. I doubt it will acheive much.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The best opt-in I've ever seen is an RSS [] feed.

    • If you put it in your aggregator [], you want it.
    • If you remove it from your aggregator, you don't want it.

    Mass-mailers/mail-mergers/automated-mailers (including my-cowardly-self) can deal with the fact that people are simply friggin' overwhelmed with inbox influx. I'm not an AOL user, but I've dealt with lousy unsubscribe procedures [] by crying "spam" to CloudMark etc... Go cry to mommy that they accidentally marked your carefully crafted newsletter as spam. G

  • Yeah right, stop spamming people, you spammer!

    if people are accidently marking your emails as spam, odds are they thought it was spam for a reason in the first place. Even if later they changed their mind.
    Joseph Elwell.
  • on accident? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by boola-boola ( 586978 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @03:50AM (#8665208)
    The only problem is, we have found that most of the time the AOL users are reporting our email as spam on accident!

    ...well, maybe because to some people it _IS_ spam? In my opinion, half of the time companies send emails out, it is unwanted. Some might even call it spam ;) And with modern mail filters, isn't it easier to just hit "mark as junk mail" (or however your client calls it) than to actually go through the "unsubscribe" process?

    It does seem bad that all it takes is a few clicks from a few lazy users to get email blocked for _ALL_ of AOL's customers, so maybe it would be wiser for them to implement some sort of local junk mail scheme, where it's a bit more cumbersome to globally mark mail as junk for all AOL users? Just a thought...

  • ISP Standpoint (Score:3, Informative)

    by The_Systech ( 568093 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @04:39AM (#8665337) Homepage
    The ISP where I work is currently participating in AOL's "Feedback Loop" It actually works out pretty well for us. I've got a script that downloads all of the "complaints" on a nightly basis and parses them for the IP address in our block that they come from. Then I total up the number of complaints per IP. From this I can look at IP's with more than 2 or 3 complaints and look at the actual emails sent. This has been a great tool for us to help find those users whose PC's have become infected with one of the many viruses that turns their computer into a spam relay.
  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday March 25, 2004 @06:01AM (#8665571)
    Your e-mails are obviously easily mistaken for spam. Stick to always using the same From: address. Prefix the subject with your company name and keep it informative rather than marketing oriented. Then post detailed instructions for AOL users on how to filter them to a separate folder.

    Better yet, let customers login to your website and read whatever information you are providing. Write an optional tray icon that will change when there is something to read and open the browser when clicked.

    Spam is out of control, and if AOL didn't provide an easy way to mass-report it, e-mail would be unusable for its intended purpose. I am not going to click on each of 200 spams individually and confirm reporting. It's up to you and AOL to figure out how to correct user mistakes.

Friction is a drag.