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05/19/2003 Archived Entry: "Me, the Spam Queen?"

I MAY BE MANY THINGS. BUT A SPAMMER, I AIN'T. So you can imagine my surprise last week when my mail began bouncing with "confirmed spam source" as the reason.

The first time it happened, I thought it was a mail glitch. The second time, I began to wonder if some joker had maliciously reported my domain name as a source of spam. But after hours of digging through incomprehensible geek-speak at sites like http://relays.osirusoft.com I figured out that the company that hosts clairewolfe.com has fallen afoul of the anti-spam police. Possibly due to a faulty mail-server configuration. Or possibly due to an error by a spam-blocking system. Definitely not because they tolerate spam from their servers. Because they don't. But whatever reason, the blocking service makes no attempt to distinguish the guilty from the innocent.

That's not the icky part, though. (Click "more" for ... more.)

The hosting service tells me it's my problem and that I have to ask my e-mail contacts to unblock me. My e-mail contacts tell me they aren't the ones doing the blocking. And they're right; the mail is being blocked by ISPs, who are in turn using the databases of blocking services like SPEWS. The ISPs tell me to take it up with the blocking services. And to whatever extent the messages at the blocking services can be understood, the message seems to be: It ain't our problem; go talk to your hosting service about it. " ... and go round and round and round in the circle game ..."

Some of the most faulty spam-blocking services also have a surly, "guilty-until-proven-innocent" attitude. They actually welcome the kind of effup that just hit me. This is not a bug, but a "feature" in their services. They figure if users suffer, we'll put pressure on our ISPs and Web hosts to straighten up.

They have a point. But they sure have an unjust way of making that point. I've heard of people simply leaving otherwise-perfectly good hosting services because these brain-dead spam police won't correct erroneous blocks.

And although lord knows we need good freemarket solutions to the terrible problem of spam, I can't imagine that such unresponsive blocking "services" are going to survive long in the market, since they're damaging legitimate e-transactions so badly and ticking so many people off.

The thing is, this is exactly like dealing with government. They're always right. You're always wrong. It's a one-size-must-fit-everybody (or else) solution, imposed by people who haven't thought out the whole problem. And who cares if it actually works; it's ours and we're sticking to it and if you don't like it then you're the one with the problem. They don't care if you're just an innocent bystander -- hey, to them it's only "collateral damange." As long as it's you, not they, being hurt, they're happy. And of course, you're guilty -- they may not know of what, but certainly of something that deserves punishment -- until you grovelingly prove your innocence.

But at least -- glory hallelujah -- the market will eventually take care of severely flawed services. And if government doesn't get in the way, the market will also find a real solution to spam. Or more likely, multiple solutions to fit different needs. (Me, I'm hoping for a secret ray that'll seek out spammers and fry their gonads.)

In the meantime, with a little help from a client's friendly ISP, I think I may have finally gotten the hosting service to realize this really is their problem and not just mine. I'll keep you posted. And I'll keep on using Spam Assassin, which may not be perfect, and which certainly doesn't solve the problem for the poor, spam-deluged ISPs, but which lets me decide whose messages get read and which go straight into the trash.

Blacklisting is a well-deserved fate for XXX-rated $5,000-per-week-in-your-spare-time hot Russian teenage babe Nigerian diplomat penis enlargers. But somehow I don't think these are the folks you and I should be forced to hang out with in spam limbo.

Posted by Claire @ 02:40 PM CST

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