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Merrill Lynch boots outside ISPs

The company is set to ban access to outside e-mail services from sites such as AOL, Yahoo and MSN, in response to regulatory requirements and to protect its network from viruses.

Merrill Lynch on Friday will ban access to outside e-mail services from popular sites such as America Online, Yahoo and MSN, in response to regulatory requirements and to protect its network from viruses, according to a company memo.

The policy shift will affect the 48,000 Merrill Lynch employees worldwide who use the company's Internet network. A Merrill Lynch representative said the policy is an extension of existing bans in departments such as the trading desk. Other investment banks, such as Goldman Sachs, have similar companywide policies.

"We believe it is appropriate for that policy to be extended throughout the firm, without exception, to help ensure that electronic communications to and from Merrill Lynch facilities are subject to proper monitoring and surveillance," said a copy of the memo, forwarded to CNET News.com.

The policy will also affect access to outside message boards, chat rooms and forums, and any access to accounts from Internet service providers. The memo also included Juno, EarthLink and Comcast in its list of banned ISPs.

Representatives from AOL, MSN and Yahoo declined to comment.

The move by Merrill Lynch is not unprecedented; other major corporations, especially those in financial services, are reining in access to outside Web and Internet services.

Investment banks and brokerage houses have taken steps to control instant messaging applications from AOL, MSN and Yahoo as well. Financial firms have demanded more security and accountability features inside these IM clients, causing many companies to develop enterprise IM products. In April 2002, a group of top investment banks including Merrill Lynch, Salomon Smith Barney, J.P. Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and UBS Warburg .

Yahoo and MSN in particular attract daytime audiences who access the Web from work. All three companies, including AOL, are trying to develop premium services such as e-mail storage and enhanced software to sell to their users.