On Wednesday, the EFF started getting complaints that emails sent to AOL customers with a link to the URL Dear AOL — a website devoted to fighting the proposed AOL email tax that would allow mass emailers who ponied up to get preferential delivery treatment over other senders — we being bounced. Copies of the same emails without the URL went through fine.
The EFF very quickly issued a press release about it. Within twenty minutes, AOL had “solved” the problem. But as the EFF put it: This incident only increases our worry about organizations who don’t have the ability to seek instant press attention. The next time AOL’s anti-spam filters fail for a small organization – or one without political muscle – will they move so quickly to fix them? Or will they push organizations to just sign up with Goodmail and pay to avoid the problem?
No, the real issue here is that AOL decided to censor email that it viewed “as harmful” to the company. No amount of subscription to Goodmail would have solved the problem, because AOL wanted to silently prevent AOL customers from getting emails that were not approved opinions of the bigwigs upstairs. This is really sleazy — less an illustration of the dangers of two-tiered email as the dangers of letting a company scan our communications and censor our thoughts and beliefs.