Verizon faces lawsuit over email blocking

US ISP stands firm over controversial policy

Aggrieved Verizon customers are invited to join a class action that seeks damages arising from the US ISP's enthusiastic email filtering policies. Philadelphia law firm Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C. filed suit this week against Verizon on behalf of a DSL subscriber in a civil case that seeks class action status.

Since 22 December, mail servers at verizon.net have been configured to reject connections from Europe and other parts of the world including China and New Zealand by default, according to Reg readers and industry sources such as MessageLabs. Verizon says the move is designed to reduce spam and says it is following industry best practice and applying blacklists as "narrowly" as possible.

Domains can be unblocked on request but Verizon's catch-all filtering has generated fierce criticism, reflected in letters from Reg readers in response to our report last week on the e-blockade.

John Vincenzo, a spokesman for Verizon, told us that the "vast majority" of Verizon's 4m dial-up and DSL customers are happy with its "long standing" policy on spam and virus filtering. He conceded that some otherwise legitimate email has been blocked but gave no indication that Verizon has any plans to review its policy. Vincenzo declined to comment on the class action lawsuit or explain how Verizon's filtering worked, beyond saying that the policy applied "globally". He forwarded us a prepared statement (republished below).

According to Vincenzo, spam complaints come from spammers themselves. This sits at odds with our own correspondence from Verizon subscribers.

Alan Gottlieb's email is typical in expressing frustration over Verizon's own subscribers (or former subscribers) over the email blockade.

I read this article and it is unbelievable. I called Verizon to confirm this and they did. In consolation, they said I could build a list of domains to be permitted access. I have dozens of international contacts and am not about to go through this chore and I expect the reaction of many of their users will be the same... bail out!! As soon as I confirmed this, I called COMCAST. They will be installing tomorrow.

I wonder how many people are going to get fired over this decision.

Expat lawyer Alberto Costa reports similar problems

I am a British lawyer resident in Boston. I have been affected by this nonsense Verizon policy. Even British government email accounts were blocked and my contacts there were unable to correspond with me. The Verizon netmail complaints department agreed with me and urged me to report the matter to the media.

I wrote to the Verizon CEO, Ivan Seidenburg, all members of the Board of Directors and some Executive VP's. To date, I have not received a response from any.

I will be closing my telephone, DSL and verizon netmail account at expense to me (changing business cards etc.) and moving to another provider.

I am astounded at Verizon's arrogance and blatant breach of its own well published purported "codes of business conduct" which stipulate, inter alia, their respect and integrity towards their clients. At no stage was I informed of this email block and thus was not given the chance to communicate with members of the British government etc, by other means.

Thank you for your article and bringing this silly policy to the attention of other readers, whom I hope will also terminate their contracts with Verizon.

Ed Lowitz has a practical suggestion

I've lost e-mail as a result of this. To overcome it and possible future problems of its ilk, I've taken to enclosing my Yahoo e-mail address in my signature.

®

STATEMENT FROM VERIZON ONLINE REGARDING SPAM FILTERING January 12, 2005

Spam is out of control. Leading providers of spam protection tools such as MX Logic, Inc. and MessageLabs report that some 80 to 90 percent of all e-mail today is spam.

This is a major problem for Internet users in multiple ways. Spam clogs our mailboxes daily to the point where it threatens viability of e-mail as a communications tool. It also routinely carries viruses, identity-theft scams, spyware, zombie bots and other serious security threats.

As an ISP, Verizon Online is working hard to address these serious security threats on the Internet by closely monitoring our network for incoming and outgoing spam and by working cooperatively with others across the ISP industry on anti-spam initiatives.

These round-the-clock efforts include blocking spam and propagation of viruses from sources we identify using methods that are consistent with industry practices. This is a long-standing policy at Verizon Online.

When we identify sources of spam or viruses, we block them as narrowly as we can and, where possible, we work directly with whoever manages that source to notify them of the issue. We then continuously monitor the source and will lift the block as soon as we are satisfied the threat has been resolved. In many cases, this is resolved within two days; however, we will not remove a block as long as a serious threat remains.

The entire ISP industry is working to combat spam and other online security threats. Verizon Online is a member of various coalitions, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group that includes both large and small ISPs covering more than 100 million online subscribers. We also have aggressively pursued spammers through legal action, and taken a leading role in drafting legislation at the state and national level and working with domestic and international law enforcement agencies to combat spam other threats. In short, Verizon is committed to protecting its customers and its network from the serious security matters that threaten our use of the Internet everyday.

Any spam blocking method will, inevitably, also result in the blocking or delay of otherwise legitimate email. This is yet another reason why spammers are harmful to the Internet community. If a Verizon Online customer believes they are not receiving legitimate e-mail, they should call our technical support desk for assistance and we will work with them to resolve their situation as quickly as possible. Our Verizon Online web site also features an Internet security page with practical tips and tools that can help customers protect themselves from Internet threats. It can be found at http://broadbandbeat.verizon.net/safety_security.

We believe that fighting spam is the right thing to do for the safety and security of our more than 4 million broadband and dial-up customers.

Some of the loudest complaints you will see or hear about spam blocking come from the spammers themselves, who lose significant income when their efforts to flood the Internet with unsolicited e-mail are foiled. Our customers expect and demand that we provide them with as safe, secure and effective an Internet experience as possible and we are firm in our commitment to do that.

Related stories

Verizon persists with European email blockade
German court rules email blocking 'illegal'
Verizon and Yahoo! forge broadband alliance
Readers storm Verizon email blockade

Sponsored: Network DDoS protection