Lost Australian email accounts mystery solved – thanks to Wikipedia.

After I got done today responding to Joe Manna on this issue, I started answering my email for the first time in weeks, and one of my reader’s questions about AOL’s email storage policies brought me to Wikipedia’s page on AOL. That wouldn’t normally reveal the answer to something going on at AOL that it seems nobody has the answer for, but lo and behold the page was updated recently (run-on paragraphs abound; the italicized swath was italicized by me):

Members who joined AOL Australia from 1999 (when they first set up operations in Aus) up to 1st November 2008, were badly affected by recent AOL Australian Management changes. In Feb 2004 most AOL dial-up customers were ‘forcibly’ migrated to iPrimus telecom when Primus bought out AOL. iPrimus then put users on to their own dial-up or ADSL service, and switched old AOL accounts to the global ‘free AOL email’ service to allow uninterrupted AOL email access. ‘Members’ continued to access their original AOL accounts until around 1st December 2008 by using the US based AOL Webmail or alternative IMAP based email local client service such as Outlook. Access to member’s free AOL email box was possible through any ISP. AOL Australia then attempted to raise much needed cash, so decided (remarkably) to force free users back to using their old, paid for, dial up service, even though by then most people already had internet access through iPrimus or other ISP. If AOL had an active valid credit card on record, members were to be billed again completely by surprise. If AOL Australia couldn’t get the cash from a valid card, members had their ‘free AOL email’ account suspended, leaving existing users in a state of complete confusion and disarray. Members wanting to keep their email addresses had to pay AOL AU$6 a month within 90 days. AOL did not send out notification emails to AOL ‘free email’ users, but only to iPrimus email addresses and AOL dial-up software users. Members ‘free AOL email’ boxes with files and address books were cancelled until they paid up. Thousands of AOL customers were considerably upset by this course of action, which caused the reputation of AOL Australia to become even worse than it was already.

If the above quote is true [citation needed?], that solves the mystery of what happened to Australian users free AOL accounts.

8 thoughts on “Lost Australian email accounts mystery solved – thanks to Wikipedia.

  1. Re: Ahem…
    … um one could say that most grass is green.. and they would revert it back and be shouting
    I’ve tried to be a volunteer there. You need a whole bottle of Xanex to deal with them.


  2. Sheesh.
    If true (insert your favorite WikiDisclaimer here), it absolutely doesn’t surprise me that this happened, though the story is awfully convoluted. This happens a lot to non-US AOL members–their local TelCo/access provider/etc. takes over all access to the service and forces individual members to become members of the provider’s service in order to retain access. But then this story just gets weird: Apparently iPrimus had all existing AOL-Aus accounts on their pipeline converted to “free” status back when AOL first started offering such a thing, and (again, this is where it gets weird) almost four years (!) later, somebody in billing caught on to the en masse member switchover that covered an entire continent’s worth of members, and flipped them all back to “full-pay”, (and cancelled accounts for anyone who didn’t have a valid credit card on file), all to get some “much needed cash” and anger “thousands” of Australian members on the side just for kicks.
    I’m less inclined to attribute such an act to nefarious or merely sadistic reasons on AOL’s part when there are other, far more logical reasons (such as botched code, botched maintenance tasks, and botched DB upgrades). When there’s a problem with overseas members en masse, the first thing that always comes to my mind is, “Somebody from the in-country carrier must have botched an upgrade,” because that’s about the only way (other than a botched promo code for the welcome screen, which doesn’t apply here) something can lock out an entire continent of members.
    Sure enough, this article confirmed that yes, in December 2008 iPrimus botched a billing system update. Prom the article comes a great example of how company spokespersons try to minimize a screw-up:

    The upgrade “threw a few people off the side”, a spokesperson for the company (iPrimas) said.”

    Yep. Gotta love those wacky in-country providers and their well-planned upgrades.
    Seriously, reading between the lines tells me that there likely was a SQL script that they would use to see if the billing changes “worked” by changing the account types, and then left everything in the test configuration by accident. When the Master File database got updated with the AOL-Aus billing status change, the next time the billing routine checked MF and finds the billing status change, it would immediately try to charge the prorated month cost to the credit card on file. When it didn’t work, they got bounced by the billing routine back to MF, where the account in question gets marked “cancelled”. Once that happens, the affected member (and any associated screen names) are not allowed to log in to any AOL service, be it Webmail, IMAP, aol.com, and even the WAOL client.
    Now, the attempt to get AUD$6.00 per month out of affected members is just plain “not cool”. But that’s a topic for another post.


  3. Re: Sheesh. That’s not a glitch – is it? Sounds more like a typical AOL cover-up.
    Hey! Haven’t heard from you in a while! I saw that ZDNet article before I wrote this one but I didn’t think it was all that believable…a mere “glitch” converts all free users back to paying accounts – and then automatically closes the accounts of all members with no billable credit card on file? That’s not a glitch- that’s an SQL server with AI on the loose – “Ha ha, let’s boot all those pesky AOL users who won’t pay!”. Or a programmer given the same instructions from the Smithers & Burns compound across the pond.
    But then again, Wikipedia doesn’t source their own version of the story (I’ve seen a more thorough job of sourcing on ValleyWag, for God’s sake) which was why I was careful to add that I think their version falls under the category of [citation needed]
    (Whoops, I got distracted and forgot to finish my reply…that’s so typical of me) At least the AOL spokesperson said the issue was soon fixed – and judging between the two stories now that some time has lapsed, it seems just as believable that a glitch was responsible as anything else was. Happy endings…


  4. Re: Sheesh. That’s not a glitch – is it? Sounds more like a typical AOL cover-up.
    I’m doing O.K. Had some very rough end-of-2008 health problems. But I got a good-looking (and good-paying) job and I’m starting in a week.
    Having been the person who had to gather AND research outage info for upper management for a couple of years, you start recognizing patterns after a while. Once the section of outrage of “thousands” of AOL-Aus they didn’t use the client any more and logged in via other sources, I knew it couldn’t have been a botched promo code.


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