AOL Moves to Thwart New Forms of Spam

America Online is changing its anti-spam policy in order
to foil what could be the next spam onslaught: unwanted instant messages,
colloquially known as “spim.”

Andrew Weinstein, a spokesman for AOL, said the ISP has expanded its
definition of spam to include bulk instant messages that are starting to
proliferate in AOL’s popular chat rooms.

The updated policy, AOL’s first in five years, makes clear that any
unsolicited bulk communications are prohibited under users’ Terms of
Service agreement, Weinstein said. “For members who spend a fair amount of
time in chat rooms, [spim] has become a significant issue for them,” he told

Weinstein said the updated anti-spam policy, which takes effect August
3rd, also takes into account the changing nature of the online medium with
the growth in popularity of instant messaging. He said a small but growing
number of AOL members who use the chat rooms frequently are seeing an
increase in automated IM messages from software bots that go into the chat
rooms and harvest the members’ IM handles.

“For our general members, it is a small but growing problem, but one we
will address if it becomes larger,” he said.

As previously reported, the upcoming release of AOL’s version 9.0 will also
include new features
designed to help members manage their IM lists and block out bulk IMs from

Called IMCatcher, the feature helps subscribers avoid IMs from unknown
senders, while allowing them an opportunity to add new Buddies.

Instead of the way that an IM usually pops-up on a user’s screen,
IMCatcher adds all new incoming messages from unknown senders to a list
that’s located in the lower part of the AOL user interface. Users can click
to view the IMs and add their senders to their Buddy List, or can block a
sender without having to open their message.

“It’s most useful for people that are getting spimmed from IM robots,”
said Weinstein. “It makes it easier for members to manage IMs they receive
from people
they don’t know, including unsolicited IMs.”

At the same time, AOL is also moving to curb spam on another front.
Beginning this week, AOL is introducing new enhancements for dial-up users
who are also paying for the service’s Voicemail and Call Alert — a feature
that announces when a user receives a phone call while they’re online.

Now, those users have a new feature that helps subscribers cut down on
annoying computer-dialed telemarketing calls — “phone spam.”

It works like this: by selecting the “I Don’t Know You” response in AOL
Call Alert, users’ phones will send a special tone in response to an
incoming call. To some auto-dialing telemarketing computers, the tone
appears to indicate that the number dialed has been disconnected, making the
computer drop the call and delete the number from its call list.

As with other commercial anti-telemarketer products, if the caller is a
person rather than a computer, AOL said they would still hear a warning
message after the tone. Although the feature won’t eliminate telemarketing,
it’s aimed to reduce the unwanted calls that users receive while they’re
online, an AOL spokesman said.

AOL also now enables Call Alert users to use Caller-ID features to screen
or block incoming calls from anonymous numbers.

In addition to the newest slate of privacy updates to features for dialup
users, AOL said it plans later this summer to update Call Alert so that
subscribers with a single phone line in the home would be able to answer
calls while online.

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