Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #94 - August 5, 2005
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AOL Censorship

When Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930's, one of the ways he controlled the masses was to institute a policy of censorship which masqueraded -- for a time -- as protection. His giant, well-oiled propaganda machine paved the way for censorship, most often portraying it as necessary for the security of the country or the safety of the individual. By allowing the German people to hear, see and read only what the government wanted them to hear, see, and read,  they assured their control was absolute. They created an atmosphere in which censorship was not only acceptable but sometimes even desirable. Did the German people think they were being treated unfairly by this regime of censorship? No, not really. At least not at first. They believed it was for their own good. For their own safety. A "benefit" of sorts.

While the above paragraph is an extreme over-simplification of a very complex issue, the point we want to make is that no group of people is going to buy into censorship if it is presented as censorship. And we are, by no means comparing AOL with Hitler. But censorship in any form must never be allowed. Whether it's a government or an ISP -- it doesn't matter.

In order to sell the masses on the benefits of censorship it must be marketed delicately - via propaganda or "marketing" (see AOL's TV commercials). Their Madison Avenue propaganda machine spews forth moronic commercials which attempt to pound the their audience with the prevarication that they are totally unsafe unless their under big brother AOL's omnipotent umbrella. AOL armed with such callow television spots pays huge sums to pound its same theme over and over and over. Apparently they assume their audience is about as smart as a lagoon carp. Their unimaginative and ludicrous commercial with the bug-eyed, moronic lady with the cake clearly demonstrates this. Can you identify with her? I would hope not.

Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf --

"The chief function of propaganda is to convince the masses, who slowness of understanding needs to be given time in order that they may absorb information; and only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on their mind.........the slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula. The one will be rewarded by the surprising and almost incredible results that such a personal policy secures."

In AOL's case, its propaganda machine describes its ubiquitous, multi-tentacled approach to "security" and censorship (spam filtering) as a benefit to its users. They're going to protect you from yourself because they know for a fact that you are not capable of protecting yourself --  as if you're some kind of mindless, slow-witted oaf that needs to be constantly led around the Internet by the hand or worse -- on a set of wobbly training wheels. And, it appears that the protection provided, at least in part, consists of spam filtering (censorship) -- the underpinnings of which are a set of crazy, mysterious and arbitrary rules. Cake anyone?

If you think we're exaggerating we're going to tell you details of a true story and it just happened last week. And we were the target of AOL's censorship. It's not funny and it should alarm all of you - AOL subscriber or not. Because the trend is frightening and it's going to get a lot worse if you stand idly by and let it happen. And you will have no one else to blame but yourselves.

Here's what happened in a nutshell: on Friday, July 29, 2005 we sent both our InfoAve Premium Edition and InfoAve Free Edition in the morning as we normally do. By mid-afternoon on that day, it became very apparent that a great many subscribers had not received their newsletters. After discussions with our mail list hosting service we began to see a troubling picture being painted. None of our 20,000+ AOL subscribers received their newsletters. Other ISPs were not receiving the email either due to a problem with our mail server or with their ISP censoring email.

AOL cannot deny their policy of arbitrary digital censorship.  Upon further investigation we traced it back to one single link in Issue #183 (Free Edition) and Issue #93 (Premium Edition). What was this dastardly link that AOL decided that was too dangerous for you to see? What were they trying to protect you from? Alien beings? Bird Flu? West Nile Virus? Nope. It was a link to a site we were trying to warn you about. Well, it's easier to show you than to tell you - so here is the article with the link that AOL used as the basis for its censorship:


Dave Wants To Know About "Internet Opinion Group"
What do you know about Internet Opinion Group? They offer free software in exchange for information about ones self, etc. Wondered if they were a spyware type company?

Our Answer
We think the old adage "there's no such thing as a free lunch" applies. This company offers "free" software in exchange for information about yourself all right. PERSONAL information. Very personal. Like your home address, your phone number, your credit card information, and more. Who are these people? Why would you trust them in the first place?

This is really scary! It is basically a way to get as much personal info as they possibly can and make you apply (and be accepted for) credit cards. I don't know about you, but it would not be worth a piece of software to give up so much personal info and AGREE they can share with anyone they want regardless of what software they want to "give" me free. I am sure the price in the end would be much higher than I'd want to pay!

Look at the following information from their "Privacy Policy" :

"...What does "complete" exactly mean?
By "completing" an offer, you are fulfilling the requirements outlined on the pop-up window that comes up when you click on an offer. For credit card offers, you must be approved for and activate that credit card to "complete" the offer.*
When our sponsors report to us that you completed their offers, your Account will be updated accordingly. This will generally take 6 to 8 weeks.

Use of Personal Information
InternetOpinionGroup.com may always use and share with others your personal information:

InternetOpinionGroup.com may also use personal information for any marketing and survey purpose on behalf of itself and its affiliates and subsidiaries. InternetOpinionGroup.com may disclose personal information to third party agents and independent contractors that help us conduct our marketing and survey efforts. Further, InternetOpinionGroup.com may disclose personal information to other companies in connection with marketing efforts including but not limited to direct marketing, which may have no relationship to InternetOpinionGroup.com. Finally, if InternetOpinionGroup.com or any of its assets are acquired by or merged with another entity, member information will be one of the transferred assets. ..."

NEXT and probably the worse of all (since other countries have different laws regarding privacy and personal info):

"...Location of Data and Security
Your information may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which InternetOpinionGroup.com or its affiliates, subsidiaries or agents maintain facilities, and by using this Site, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country. ..."

I think you should RUN away from this site as fast as you can. Hopefully you have not given up any personal information to these people. It appears anyone who signs up for this receives "free software" in exchange for personal information and promises to sign-up for "credit cards". We can imagine the quantities of email that one might have to endure by surrendering personal information to this company and ALLOWING them to share it with anyone they like.


If you look at that article you'll see that we used the link to Internet Opinion Group (Red Link) as Dave included it in his question. We were not, obviously promoting that site at all, in fact, we were warning all our readers about it. AOL censored over 20,000 of our newsletters because of this one link and prevented or tried to prevent you from learning about something that could seriously endanger your privacy. AOL's censorship, disguised as protection, prevented paying subscribers (Premium) from receiving something they paid for and free subscribers from getting something they asked for.

We can learn from history that censorship almost always begins as a benign attempt to "protect" citizens from something. At least that is how it is presented. AOL's protectionism is nothing more than cloaked censorship and it is getting worse all the time. You don't believe that AOL is big on protectionism? Just take a look at their puerile television advertising. These advertisements are obviously geared to those with a fifth-grade education. Their condescending approach to customers and potential customers is obvious. Their commercials are ridiculous. If AOL wanted to better serve their customers they would improve their infrastructure, hire more forward-looking management, and provide better, faster Internet service to customers -- rather than piling on more and more censorship disguised as protection and providing them with arguably the worst support in the industry.

This censorship by AOL ended up costing us quite a bit of money as we had to re-send supplemental newsletters to 20,000+ AOL users on Friday and Saturday. Money we should not have had to spend; money we could ill-afford to spend -- but were forced to spend because of AOL's censorship policy

We have an obligation to our subscribers and therefore made the decision to re-send a supplemental newsletter. We wanted to do all we could to make sure that those who paid for InfoAve Premium received it and those who signed-up for and presumably wanted their copy of InfoAve Free Edition got it as well. We could ill-afford to spend the extra money but we are committed to providing our subscribers with that they paid and/or what they asked for.

To be fair to those fortunate enough not to subscribe to AOL, we did have some mail server problems on Friday, July 29, 2005. That combined with ISPs (other than AOL) adding more censorship (spam filters) wreaked havoc with that day's newsletters. We wanted to point out that AOL isn't the only ISP that censors its customers email under the guise of protection.

But, unlike other ISPs whose faulty spam filters (censorship) prevented some subscribers from receiving the newsletter - AOL's ridiculous and arbitrary censorship of our newsletter was based on a single URL (link) inside the newsletter. AOL determined that that link (URL) was not fit for its subscribers. Was it pornography? No. Did it incite racial hate? No. It was a link we used in an article warning our readers about that site. It was your right to know. It was your right to receive that newsletter and to read the article about the site that we deem a severe security risk. AOL had other ideas and prevented its subscribers from getting the entire newsletter. Censorship at its finest - right here in America.

One of these days, an ISP is going to censor an email addressed to someone very wealthy and very important and that someone is going to file a huge class-action lawsuit (AOL is lucky we're not the litigious type) and the game of censorship under the guise of "spam filtering" will come to a screeching, welcome end.

In my opinion, AOL should be more concerned with its lagging technology and poor public image than it is with obfuscating the truth that AOL continues to rank near the bottom of Internet Service Providers. They should spend money upgrading their technology, giving customers better service, and giving customers value rather than dumping millions into running ridiculous television commercials, and censoring its customers private email - disguising it as "protection". Indeed AOL demonstrates again and again its complete disregard for its customers by charging fees well-above the national average, while providing Internet service well below the national average. Indeed AOL is the (according to this survey) the lowest-ranked ISP with a terrible public image that its current advertising campaign only serves to exacerbate.

Over 20,000 AOL customers didn't get our newsletter last Friday because AOL censored it. And why did they censor it? Because of a link to a site we wanted you to be aware of and wanted you to avoid. Censorship disguised as protection is still censorship and the only good censorship is none at all. Your email is your email. It does NOT belong to your ISP. You may have to deal with spam on your own terms but at least you'll be getting all your mail not just the mail that your ISP decides you can have.

You are all adults. You don't need another big brother. You should be telling your ISP -- in no uncertain terms -- that if they continue to censor your email in any way you are going to switch to an ISP who respects your right to make your own decisions and who respects your intelligence. That you're switching to an ISP who recognizes that email addressed to you is your property and that filtering unwanted email is your responsibility and not the ISP's.

Censorship in any form is not a service or a benefit even though it may be cleverly marketed as such. History is replete with governments who successfully "marketed" censorship to the masses as a benefit or a service necessary for the security and safety of the individual or society. One thing you can be sure of: where censorship is allowed to grow, freedom will wither.

Are you ready to take the responsibility for your own email and tell your ISP you don't want them censoring your email? Or are you going to let this new digital censorship grow out of control? It's your call. Only you can change it.

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