The Huffington Post

 November 17, 2009

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould

How we discovered Verizon’s Spamdetector could be twisted into a disguise for censorship!

We had just emailed the link to our interview discussing the ‘real’ history of Afghanistan on Sibel Edmond’s boilingfrogspost.  As soon as it was emailed a Verizon response spit back immediately with a notice declaring the email we had just sent was spam. When the culprit turned out to be to be our friend Sibel’s website  we called Verizon to clear up the problem. This was clearly not spam and should be easily reinstated, we thought. While a very chatty employee attempted and failed to fix our problem, we innocently asked how can we get this address back in business. That is when the real fun began. According to the laws of Verizon Central, once you’ve been labeled spam, there is only one course of action and it goes like this:
1. Verizon uses an unnamed third party who decides what is spam.
2. This unnamed third party also reviews complaints like ours.
3. We were told to send the “offending” email to
4. The unnamed third party would make a secret decision within 24 hours.
5. If the unnamed third party decides it is spam, regardless of our complaint we will not hear back.
That’s it. There is no recourse to challenge the decision. There isn’t even a confirmation that the email we sent to this third party was received at all. Of course, after 24 hours we still couldn’t send out an email containing the link.

Then it dawned on us, the Verizon employee’s automoton behavior was reminiscent of a 2004 Hollywood comedy titled, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galexy. The film’s plot involves a race of Vogons who run the Vogon homeworld planet just the way Verizon Central is run.
“Vogons are employed as the galactic government’s bureaucrats.. Vogons are not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.”
When the human heroes in the story try to extricate themselves from the stupidity of the Vogon perpectual bureucratic machine, the unfortunate victims are repeatedly told in a monotonous tone, “Resistance is Useless.” The Vogons never stop to think. There is a simple reason, they can’t. Just like Vogons, if the Verizon employees actually thought about what they were saying to us, they could not keep pushing out such nonsense. The illogic of the whole process doesn’t stop them from pushing it out, regardless. If Verizon Central says it’s the law, it’s the law and “Resistance is useless”!
It’s no surprise that many other Verizon customers have been effected by this Orwellian abuse of authority. In fact we discovered that a lawsuit was settled in 2006 on this very issue. Here are the results.
Settlements and Verdicts
A class action lawsuit was filed against the telecommunications company for allegedly blocking legitimate incoming emails to certain subscribers. The class includes all business and residential customers of Verizon FiOS, DSL, and dial-up Internet services in the United States at any time from October 1, 2004 to May 31, 2005, who had use of one or more email accounts on the email platform. Verizon adjusted its spam filters to aggressively block messages from domains in Europe and Asia. Instead of simply routing suspected spam into a separate folder, Verizon bounced messages back to the sender without notifying the intended recipient. Verizon has announced a tentative settlement that would award customers $3.50 for each month between October 1, 2004 and May 31, 2005 that he or she was a customer of Verizon Internet Service. The maximum one can receive is $28. (Apr-05-06) [ARS TECHNICA]


That was in 2006 and it doesn’t seem that Verizon Central has changed its policy in any noticeable way, regardless of whopping $28/ customer cost. Now we’re wondering how Verizon got the idea in the first place that they had a right to secretly make decisions regarding what can flow through emails without accountability..
What is even more disturbing is realizing that Verizon’s anti-spam campaign could easily be twisted to disguise censorship, a kind of “No Fly” list for emails. Just like the No Fly list, once you’ve made the list you won’t know why and you may never be removed.

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