I [hate] AOL

I run a few mailing lists, the most active being Undercover, a Rolling Stones discussion group that goes back to 1992. In this era of spam and spam counter-measures, there are lots of problems in getting email through (I had a client, for example, that couldn’t get email from me at all; fortunately they were able to figure that out and not assume I was just ignoring them!). A discussion group that can generate dozens of messages in a short period of time is easily flagged by automated software as a spambot of some sort.

Say what you want about the discussions on Undercover, they aren’t spam. But they were getting flagged as spam (we didn’t know that; we just started seeing hours and hours of delays, sometimes messages being held for 20 hours before being delivered), as our ISP suggested (it is hard to track down email problems – is it between the sender and the mailing list host, or the mailing host and the sender? Or elsewhere)?

The ISP suggested I whitelist Undercover – go through some administrivia to get AOL to recognize it is a valid sender so that it wouldn’t get auto-flagged as spam. I filled out a bunch of forms, including agreeing to have certain types of bounce messages sent back to me. I didn’t follow all of it; it was speaking a language best understood by someone that operates an ISP and has access to the email software that UNIX etc. systems are using. I’m just a customer with a web-interface, I’m not a sys-admin. So I signed up and was approved.

The email delays (to AOL, at least) stopped.

The bounce messages started coming. TONS and TONS. And what I realized was that I had signed up as the whitelist contact for the entire ISP. Not just www.under-cover.net and the Undercover email, but anyone who is hosted at my ISP that sends something to AOL – I was the guy they were going to let know about it. In fact what I think is happening that anytime there is spam sent from anyone at my ISP, every single AOL customer who flags it as spam in their account, well that comes back to me.

You can’t believe how much of this I received.

I asked my ISP. No answer – I was starting to realize that I had taken on the whitelist responsibility that THEY should have, for the entire ISP.

Finally after months and several thousand messages, I contacted AOL. I emailed them – they have a lot of info on their support pages for people at other sites trying to email or run approved lists, etc. They always want you to email them at postmaster@aol.com. No response. No response. Finally I called and got right through. No problem, they told me, your ISP should be the whitelist contact definitely not you. Email us and say X, y, and Z, and they’ll take you off within 24 to 72 hours.

I’ve emailed them 5 times over a month, and it’s not working. I’m still getting these messages.

What has happened is that my ISP has finally (after numerous requests from me) fixed whatever was enabling one single user to be the source for all this spam. It was obvious – you could see on every single bounce message from AOL what user was causing the problem. It was all from the same customer of the ISP. So plugging that hole did reduce drastically the number of warnings I was getting.

Until today – someone else is spamming AOL customers and every one of them is flagging it as spam and every one of those is coming back to me. In a four hour period I have received 453 of these messages and as I type this, more are coming in.

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope. Seriously, I don’t know what to do. AOL won’t take me off the list – when I email they ignore me and when I phone they tell me to email. It’s not really bothering anyone at my ISP and they won’t take any action. And this has been going on for months now.

I [hate] AOL. I also [hate] my ISP (meanwhile it’s almost time to renew my hosting account there for portigal.com)

Update: 6 hours later it’s now more than 3000 messages that have been bounced back to me

Update: I’m sure it totally more than 4000 messages. My ISP claims that they have signed on as the whitelist contact for AOL, and I finally discover (with their suggestion) that I can filter unwanted emails directly at the ISP so they don’t come through – yeah, they are still being sent by AOL but they won’t ever be delivered to me.


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