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AOL fights to ban junk email

America Online plans to appeal a temporary restraining order that prohibits the online service from blocking "junk" emails sent to its members.

    America Online (AMER) today said it plans to appeal a temporary restraining order that prohibits the online service from blocking "junk" emails sent to its members from Cyber Promotions.

    A federal judge yesterday ordered AOL to stop blocking emails that are being sent to its members from the Philadelphia marketing firm.

    The court stated that it issued the order to preserve the status quo of the parties until November when the court will hear the case.

    The ruling is the latest twist in AOL's battle to combat the flow of so-called junk email, a mounting concern among subscribers. The company announced Tuesday that it has begun to bar traffic from sites that purportedly send members two to six advertisements, chain letters, or promotions a day, in response to overwhelming complaints from its members.

    For now, AOL has implemented tools that will allow members to block mail in a number of ways: They can block all mail, block all mail with attachments, or block email from specific lists of addresses. Users also can accept mail from specific lists, according to AOL executives.

    Cyber Promotions, which sends out one or two messages daily to 900,000 of AOL's 6 million subscribers, is one of many commercial email sites that was blocked by AOL, based on some 100 email complaints daily.

    David Phillips, AOL's associate general counsel, said "the numbers of complaints about junk mail is larger than we receive on any other issue. Over the course of a year, the junk mail issue has gone from being a low concern to the number-one concern."

    AOL said it tried to resolve the issue by talking directly with mass-mailing site owners. If both parties fail to come up with a solution, the service blocks all email sent from that site.

    "We consider this a dirty trick on AOL's part," Sanford Wallace, president of Cyber Promotions charged. "People don't want them to play Big Brother. If a user doesn't want email from us, they can remove themselves from our list."

    Phillips countered AOL users have tried to take themselves off the Cyber Promotions list, but the process doesn't work. "We have taken every reasonable step to work out a solution, and Wallace has continuously and repeatedly defied our requests for over six months," he alleged.

    There are more than 100 companies that allegedly send junk mail to AOL members, and the service intends to contact every one of them. "This blocking is the last step in a very long and measured process," he said. "The Cyber Promotions of the world are threatening to undermine the member experience and littering the information highway with junk email, and I don't think that's in the interest of anyone on the Internet."

    Other sites blocked by AOL for allegedly sending unsolicited, mass commercial email to its users, include Honeys.com and Netfree.com.