On being treated like a criminal

One of the things that really gets my shorts in a knot is being treated like a Bad Guy without any cause. Case in point: automatic rejection of emails.

More and more legitimate emails are being either rejected out-of-hand or returned with a message that the sender (me) has to double my work because the recipient isn’t willing to deal with their own spam problem.

Spam is a problem, and I sympathize, really I do. But to treat everyone by default as a spammer is insulting, not to mention short-sighted. (I am being polite in my choice of adjectives starting with the letter “s”.) Why short-sighted? People aren’t getting emails they’ve actually requested or that are in response to a process they started.

For example, one of my fall back error handling routines on a web customer’s site allows a user to email me an error report. Sunday afternoon I got just such an email, found and fixed a bug, and emailed a reply to the user telling them they should try again. The reply bounced with the message that the mailbox doesn’t accept any email from unexpected addresses.

Even if I squelch my human reaction of feeling slapped after responding quickly to a bug report, and on a Sunday, it’s irritating, and has caused me unnecessary work. And, the user, who had waited until the deadline to do this task, doesn’t know that the problem is fixed; was fixed, actually, within an hour of getting the report. That will cause him extra work. His very human, very likely reaction will be frustration with the system. And round and round we go, because a small number of people feel righteous in perpetrating nearly all the spam we’re forced to deal with.

This same website has the ability to email account holders password reminders. I’m frequently getting automated responses from accounts that say the following:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:

Now, allow me another gripe: this is supposed to be an automated system, and the user has asked for this email. It’s automated, sent via the SMTP server on the website and the user will have no way to know beforehand what email address it will come from, even if they remember to add the address to their “approved” list.

Frankly I don’t have the time or the inclination to beg permission to send email to someone who as already asked for it. Is that snarky? I admit it. (I did say my shorts are in a knot, right?)

This sort of bounce seems to come exclusively from Earthlink. They used to be my ISP years ago until I became disenchanted with their service. This sort of thing doesn’t do anything to improve my opinion of them.

What in the world are they thinking? Some people are trying to intelligently build rules for filtering the majority of spam using Bayesian filters. Others are building tools tools that at least helps up cope with it. Earthlink’s option is the equivelent of razing the village to save the village.

Honestly, I wish people would consider how much they might be compounding a problem, or causing new problems before implementing a solution.

Is Earthlink the only ISP/Mail host using this technique? What do you think about it? Perhaps there is some positive aspect of it that I’m not seeing. I’ll be hard to convince, but I would be interested in hearing the other side.

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