Why does AOL treat mail forwarded from Advantagecom servers as spam?

It has come to our attention that several AOL users that use our web hosting services and use email forwarding from their domains to their AOL email address are inadvertantly and erroneously reporting our servers as the source of spam due to a non-standard policy at AOL.

There are rare instances when an exploited formmail script or something similar results in spam being sent from our servers (they're shutdown quickly when detected), but that is not the case with 90%+ of the AOL spam complaints against our servers and network. Legitimate spam complaints are dealt with swiftly per our terms of service and Washington state law.

AOL considers any web hosting company that receives email on a domain that is forwarded to any AOL user to be just as guilty as the originator of the spam, though the spam was simply received on a hosting account and forwarded per settings made by the end-user. As a result of this policy, any email that a mutual AOL and Advantagecom customer has received on their domain email address that is forwarded to their AOL address and subsequently reported by our our mutual customer to AOL as spam results in Advantagecom being listed as the source of the spam.

AOL has told us that it is our responsibility to block all spam from being forwarded to AOL users and that any spam that AOL users request that our servers forward to their AOL email address and subsequently report to AOL will cause our web servers to continue to be blacklisted by AOL. This is not an issue that is specific to Advantagecom. This issue is worldwide and affects every web hosting company on the planet offering email forwarding that hosts domains for AOL customers. AOL policy basically considers all web hosting companies to be spammers if they offer email forwarding.

So, since we have several hundred AOL users as customers and many forward their email from their hosting account to their AOL email address, this will continue to be an ongoing problem. It is impossible for us to block all spam email from being received and forwarded and there is no way for us to unilaterally command mutual AOL and Advantagecom customers to stop reporting to AOL spam they receive on their hosting account email addresses. There just isn't any effective way to do so.

It has also long been the policy of this company that it is ultimately up to the end-user where and how they want to block spam. For instance, some accounts have SpamAssassin available, but we do not force all users to use it. Some users prefer that the spam filtering be done at their inbox.

If you are an AOL user and you care about this issue, there are several things you can do:

  1. Change to a reasonable Internet access provider that doesn't willy nilly block everyone on the planet for no good reason.
  2. Stop forwarding email from your Advantagecom email addresses to your AOL email address. If you must forward your domain email addresses elsewhere rather than downloading them directly, forward them to someplace other than AOL that has more reasonable policies.
  3. Stop reporting spam to AOL that was received on your Advantagecom email address. Use a different spam reporting service (like http://www.spamcop.net and others) that accurately identifies the source of the spam.
  4. Give AOL heck by phone, email, fax, lawsuits, and etc. until they change their policies, though such activity has never been successful in the past. Their management is technically inept and makes policies that reflect their ineptitude.
  5. Just live with it. Nothing we can do will change the situation with AOL since their policy is logically unsound and just plain ludicrous. Their base assumption that email received and forwarded through a web hosting account of a mutual customer makes the web hosting company the source of the spam is just plain wrong.
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