Two El Cerrito men start campaign to send AOL CDs back

By Angela Watercutter The Associated Press
Monday November 11, 2002

By Angela Watercutter 

The Associated Press 


SAN FRANCISCO – Two El Cerrito men got so sick of receiving America Online promotional compact disks they decided to do something about it. Now they’ve had thousands delivered to their doors. 

Jim McKenna and John Lieberman, who are both in their 30s and work in information technology, are collecting the CDs from the four corners of the globe and say that when they get one million they’re going to AOL’s front door in Virginia to say, “You’ve got mail.” 

“Basically, we’ll enlist the help of volunteers who are willing to take a pickup load and drive back to AOL headquarters with us,” said McKenna. “We will be as obvious as possible and very polite.” 

With the assistance of their Web site, the El Cerrito men have collected more than 80,000 disks, which offer trial subscriptions to AOL’s services. 

Their site, which has received more than one million hits since it was launched in July of 2001, features pictures of the various things people have done with their unwanted disks and even has a section of Haiku poems that disgruntled folks have written about the CDs. 

The men say they want to build an international alliance for their cause. They already have partners in France, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom. The allies have their own Web sites and serve as receiving points that send their accumulated disks on to Lieberman and McKenna. 

“People find this action very cool and the ecology aspect is very loved in France,” said Aziz Ridouan of Stop CD France, which has accumulated about 1,600 CDs for the men so far. 

Ridouan is the vice president of the League of Protection of the Internet with Cable, which was created to protest against AOL monopolies in some areas of France. Stop CD France is a part of the league, Ridouan said via e-mail. 

McKenna and Lieberman stress they have nothing against AOL, they just see the disks as a waste of resources and have found a creative way to ask the Internet giant nicely to stop making and sending them. 

“If they reach their goal ... I’d be happy to give them directions and greet them at the door,” said AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham. “We would make a contribution ourselves to put them over the top.” 

Graham wouldn’t say how many of the disks AOL distributes each year and noted that if anyone isn’t happy about getting the CDs they can call the company and ask to not receive them. He also noted that anyone can return their unwanted disks so the company can recycle them. 

But McKenna said AOL won’t block his address, although he has tried multiple times to be taken off the company’s mailing list. 

Just because McKenna and Lieberman may show up at the door with one million disks doesn’t mean that the company will stop distributing them. The promotion is still the best way for AOL to reach its customers and they have responded well to the disks, Graham said. 

Similar promotional tactics are used by companies like AT&T, Earthlink and others, but AOL uses the CD plan most pervasively. Their disks appear in magazines, at the post office, at movie theaters, and, of course, in mailboxes. 

“I can’t stand all the CDs I get from them,” said Leslie Byster of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which handles problems caused by electronics waste. “It’s just adding more plastic to the scrap heap and the planet can’t afford to handle any more junk than it’s already getting.”