AOL ramps up fight against spam for users

America Online is upgrading its fight against spam to try and better serve potential and existing customers. In an announcement Thursday, the Dulles, Va.-based company said it's increasing its antispam battle on behalf of customers by providing better online tools for users and improving its automatic spam mail filters.

In addition to the existing "Report Spam" button that customers can now use to notify AOL of spam that gets through to their e-mail accounts, additional antispam features will be unveiled in the coming months, the company said.

AOL also said it will continue to fight spammers in the courts, advocate for tougher federal and state legislation to fight spam and create a special antispam task force to find other ways to fight the problem, which deluges AOL's network and subscribers with unwanted e-mail.

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said customers have identified spam as "their top concern" when using AOL. "We are already working on a number of important initiatives," including upcoming software to block pop-up ads for users, Graham said.

According to AOL, its existing proprietary antispam filtering methods block up to 780 million pieces of junk mail every day from reaching member e-mail in-boxes, which amounts to about 22 blocked spam e-mails per account each day. AOL customers are using the "Report Spam" button about 4.1 million times a day to report problem e-mail, which allows spam filters to be adjusted to staunch the flow of junk.

Jon Miller, the new chairman and CEO of AOL, said in a statement that as an AOL user he understands the issue all too well. "As a member, and as a parent, I too have become outraged by the tide of spam that's drowning the legitimate email I want to get," he said. "Spam is not only unwelcome on AOL, but we must make it unacceptable. We've declared spam to be public enemy number one on our service."

Eric Hemmendinger, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said AOL has recently been rocked with huge revenue losses and an executive shake-up and is looking to staunch its problems by stabilizing its membership.

"Making sure [members] don't get beseeched by spam is probably a good place to start," he said. Dial-up users, who make up most of AOL's subscriber base, are even more hard hit by spam because it slows their access over phone lines by using up bandwidth.

Jeff Kagan, an independent IT industry analyst in Atlanta, said the increased efforts to fight spam on behalf of customers is a good strategy for AOL. "The companies that can help their customers deal with the increased level of frustration are the companies that can retain their customers," he said.

Competing Internet service providers, including Atlanta-based EarthLink Inc., have brought in software such as Spaminator by BrightMail Inc. to help fight spam, and are including software to block pop-up windows for their users, Kagan said. "AOL hasn't done a good job until now," he said. "In order to protect their base, it's something they have to do."

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