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Polling firm sues AOL for blocking service

Being on ‘spam’ blacklist prevented mailings, it says

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A leading Internet-based polling company is suing America Online Inc. and a dozen other Internet service providers for blocking correspondence with some 2.7 million of its 6.6 million online members.

Harris Interactive Inc., which publishes the Harris poll, filed suit in federal court here late Monday seeking unspecified damages from AOL, Microsoft Corp., and other providers that it says subscribe to the "Realtime Blackhole List" maintained by Mail Abuse Prevention System.

The nonprofit California company was established to fight e-mail abuse. Harris Interactive was added to the list for purportedly sending unsolicited bulk e-mail or "spam" — an accusation the market-research company heatedly denies.

The listing prompted service providers to block Harris Interactive from corresponding with some 41 percent of members served by those providers, the lawsuit alleges. The Rochester-based company is also suing MAPS, based in Redwood City, Calif., and a market research competitor, Incon Research of Norwalk, Conn.

"Harris Interactive was sending mail to people who didn't want it," said Kelly Thompson, the MAPS list's project manager, "and they refused to change their procedures so that that could not happen." She declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Last week, Yesmail.com, a Chicago-based online marketer, won a temporary restraining order preventing MAPS from placing Yesmail on its list of spammers. The order was suspended after the two sides agreed to try to negotiate a settlement.

AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said the suit has no merit. "We are confident that our spam-fighting techniques are entirely appropriate," he said.

Denying that it sends unsolicited e-mail to attract new members to its online survey panel, Harris Interactive maintains instead that members can join the panel only after registering at the company's site or 26 other recruiting sites.

Harris Interactive said its 6.6 million registered parties are surveyed on diverse issues ranging from online buying habits to public policy. Rather than being quizzed over the telephone, people now can call up a Web page e-mail message and fill out a questionnaire.