Monday March 19, 2001

AOL Anti-Spam Effort Loses E-mail

By JUSTIN BACHMAN, AP Business Writer

ATLANTA (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of e-mails sent by EarthLink Inc. customers to America Online accounts were rejected and lost over a period spanning at least 10 days, EarthLink said Monday.

An AOL spokesman said software designed to restrict junk e-mail, or spam, was to blame.

After conferring Monday, the companies said the problem had been resolved.

Steve Dougherty, EarthLink's director of systems vendor management, complained that AOL had not assigned executives at a level high enough to resolve the trouble more quickly.

He said the problem was brought to EarthLink's attention Wednesday after some of its customers complained that e-mail sent to AOL accounts was not reaching intended recipients - and no error message was returned.

``Going backward, there is nothing to be done. The mail that was lost is lost,'' he said. ``We think it's in the hundreds of thousands but probably less than 1 million. It's still a very large number.''

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said the company uses software that constantly monitors potential spam and that the filtering was not limited to material from EarthLink.

``One of our top priorities is protecting our members from spam,'' Weinstein said. ``Our system automatically shields members from servers that send significant volumes of spam. A small percentage of EarthLink servers fell into that category.''

The Dulles, Va.-based company disputed EarthLink's estimate of how many e-mails were blocked, calling the number too high, and said the system worked correctly.

Weinstein said the issue was caused by anti-spam software that detects large amounts of mail from an account and then blocks material from that server. He declined to discuss how the system detects and eliminates spam but said that it routinely discerns large, legitimate mailings, such as from airlines.

EarthLink said about 5 percent of its 10 million to 20 million daily e-mails go to AOL but that the problem affected only messages from the 60 percent of its customers with accounts. EarthLink also operates and addresses, having purchased both companies.

The Atlanta-based company has about 4.7 million customers, a distant second to AOL's 27 million.

AOL has been aggressive in recent years against junk e-mailers, pursuing lawsuits against more than three dozen parties to stop the unwanted mail from clogging users' mailboxes.

One EarthLink user hurt by e-mail blockage says he's definitely not in the spam business.

``I'm desperately trying to find out what to do,'' said George Newman, a 65-year-old retired reporter who sends a daily compilation of humorous tidbits and news items to 48 friends and relatives from his home in Tucson, Ariz.

Newman said the 19 AOL customers on his list started complaining Tuesday that they had not received his messages.

Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report from Springfield, Va.



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