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AOL: Members' E-Mail Not Monitored

November 4, 2001

It could be a coincidence that America Online shut down Sonia Griffin's account after she complained about the company to Eight On Your Side.

It could be a coincidence that she was denied access to her account after we reported her story, and she e-mailed the Internet link to others in the same position.

But Griffin believes AOL had another reason for denying her access to her account.

``They don't want the story out,`` Griffin said.

You may remember Griffin's story: She thought she won $10,000 in the AOL/Coca Cola ``Pop the Top'' online game.

But AOL reported a computer glitch invalidated her entry, and several dozen others, from around the country.

Griffin met those other entrants online via an e-mail listserv. After Eight on Your Side broadcast Griffin's story, she e-mailed the version that is posted on Tampa Bay Online ( to those folks.

Twenty-seven minutes after Griffin hit the ``send'' button, she received an e-mail stating AOL ``secured'' her account.

``I sent that multimedia report out two, three days before. No problem. All of the sudden, I get wind of a group of people who have the same type of complaint, I send it out, and I get booted off,'' Griffin said.

AOL won't comment about member accounts.

But company spokesman Andrew Weinstein said AOL ``would never take action against a member sending a newslink about anything to another member. Any action would be due to another reason.''

Weinstein explained a user's account can be ``temporarily secured'' if a member is misusing the account, such as sending out spam - unsolicited bulk e-mail.

But remember: Griffin sent the e-mail to a group of individuals who want to exchange information about the botched online game.

Some other factors worth mentioning in the AOL shutdown of her account: Griffin recalled that the AOL security person she spoke to right after she got the boot told her ``the advertising'' on the link was the problem.

According to, real estate agents, schools/universities, builders, employment agencies, funeral homes, restaurants, credit card companies and even a tattoo parlor advertise on the site.

We're not clear which, if any, of those businesses are offensive.

Griffin said she regularly e-mails links to News Channel 8's Crimetracker feature and has never had a problem.

Let's take a look at the timing: Twenty-seven minutes after she hit the send button. That's a quick response, one that Internet security expert John Lorelle believes is unusual.

``Typically what will happen is someone will complain about an e-mail to a receiving ISP. The ISP [Internet service provider] will review it, discuss their course of action, then typically the following day they will shut down your account,'' Lorelle said. ``It rarely happens within a two-hour time period.''

Weinstein insisted ``AOL never monitors its members' e-mail.''

AOL reinstated Griffin's access and gave her a month of free service. But that didn't ease her concerns. ``I was being bullied,'' she said.

She is now with another ISP.

Her story caught the attention of the Florida Attorney General's office, which in August began investigating the game.


Copyright © 2001, Media General Inc.


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