An Open Letter from an Email Sender Whose Email Was Blocked and Spam Filtered

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“I’d like to talk about the other side of the email equation – what happens for legitimate senders, whose email is blocked as spam because an ISP decides that certain words in their email are not ok.

We operate a video industry newsletter, specifically DVDs, for consumers. We had our requested newsletter spamfiltered last week because it had a review of the film Nathalie in it, which we described in the newsletter as “In this sexually charged story of infidelity, eroticism and desire, Emmanuelle Beart plays a Parisian prostitute who is hired by a married woman (Fanny Ardant) to seduce her husband (Gerard Depardieu).”

Anyone who has seen the film, or reviews of the film, know that this is very much an accurate description of the main theme of the film. Should that mean that people who requested our newsletter should not receive it? I think not. I hope not!

I think many of the ISPs go beyond attempting to detect legitimate vs. illegitimate email into the realm of moralistic filtering. Basically they’re trying to ensure that no one is offended. OK great I get that, totally cool. Except when that email that is being sent to someone has been legitimately requested by them. I think it’s the receiving ISP’s responsibility to ensure delivery of email which people have actively requested AS MUCH or even more than ensure they don’t get what they don’t want.

Imagine if ISPs applied the same filtering rules they used for email to people’s surfing under the guise that they were trying to protect them from malicious sites. People would switch in a heart beat to ‘unfiltered’.

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My biggest hope honestly is that all the major ISPs integrate RSS into their email systems, so that we can stop sending email all together and just use RSS to deliver our information. Already our main DVD Talk RSS list is at 85% the number of subscribers that our email newsletter is and my hope is that we’ll surpass it this year.

We’ve even added a blurb to the bottom of each newsletter asking people to sign up to the RSS feed.


Geoffrey Kleinman – Editor”

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11 thoughts on “An Open Letter from an Email Sender Whose Email Was Blocked and Spam Filtered

  1. As it happens, my wife is a lactation consultant and Peri/Post Natal Registered Nurse. We have had to get every email address into her address book for anyone she corresponds to for work or through professional organizations. She uses Yahoo for her email and she spends alot of time un-spamming her mail. She is not an experienced computer user and she gets very frustrated, I wish there was an easy solution.

  2. Has anyone tried a service that requires the user’s _computer_ to do the lifting? Something like hashcash for WordPress?

    Here’s the URL, I’m thinking of trying it out: ?

  3. didnt really help…just wanna know i would be notified if i was blocked from an email account

  4. Heuristic filtering beeing the answer? I don’t think so. Statistical filtering is the answer.

  5. I get hundreds of spam messages every day on addresses that are necessarily posted on web sites (like this one). They’re all routed through Gmail accounts, and Google’s heuristic filtering is so consistently accurate that out of thousands a month only a couple of dozen are forwarded to my “main” account. I used to check the other accounts for inaccurately filtered stuff, but found so little that I quit bothering.

    Heuristic filtering is the answer and, as Auntie has said, the old blacklist/whitelist system is way obsolete. Trouble is, you can rent someone’s lists a lot cheaper than you can lease or develop good algorithms, and the ISPs don’t really care anyway.

  6. I doubt there are many ISPs who filter solely based on one word in one message. That maay have been state-of-the-art for a couple weeks in the late nineties, but not anymore.

    More often, there will be a whole bunch of different criteria involved: mail server profile, past sending practices, user complaints, etcetera.

    Some ISPs will help you understand what you’re doing wrong, but most won’t because they don’t know if you’re a spammer. However, there are a ton of companies that offer deliverability consulting — many of whom have been mentioned on this very blog.

  7. I have very little problem with getting what I want and blocking what I don’t want. The spammers seem to target the major ISPs, so I use a lesser known one ( They send a list of blocked emails (usually only 2 or 3 per day)each day and give me the option of downloading it anyway and whether to list it a a “trusted sender”. For the spam that they miss, I use SpamAware (a free spam filter for Outlook Express.) RonJohnson

  8. If I get emails that I feel are inappropriate, my ISP will block those specific Ip addresses, as I report them.
    I am still fairly new at this setup, but so far it seems to work, and I think it is fair.
    I don’t mind receiving legitimate messages, but with children in the house,I do mind receiving some of the absolute trash that I have been getting.

    Michael Lee, while I can empathize with your plight, if I receive an email that has tricks applied in order to get past filters, it goes right in the trash.
    It just seems less than honest, whether it is , or not.

    Therefore, at this point, I feel that the system that my ISP is using is fair.
    Leave out the subtrifuge and let the receiver decide upon the filter.

    It is certainly not my intent to put any legitimate business off.

  9. We only hear from one side in this case.

    As a sys admin, I understand that an organization’s e-mail system may need to be subject to a use policy that reflects applicable statutes and the goals and beliefs of the organization.

    An ISP provides a delivery mechanism – which would appear to be a neutral role and one which hardly demands or supports censorship of any kind.

    However, the laws regarding liability being the tangled mess that they are, I would say that, so long as the ISP clearly discloses its policies, they certainly have a right to enforce their policies – regardless of what a subscriber might want.

    After all, if they have a policy against bulk mailing and I want to send 10 K messages each day, my wanting to send the messages doesn’t make a difference. It’s their pipe!

    And the same holds true for incoming e-mail – whatever its content or however desirous the recipient may be of seeing it.

    Without knowing exactly what the whole story here is, though, it’s tough to know how to respond….

  10. Imagine if ISPs applied the same filtering rules they used for email to people’s surfing

    Of course, there’s a big difference between web surfing and email. Spyware/adware notwithstanding, you choose to visit a website. Someone else chooses to send you an email.

    It’s just like putting a lock on your front door. You want it to keep random people from walking into your home, but you don’t want it to prevent you from walking out when you want to.

    Anyway, your story is the latest in a long line of examples showing that any spam filter that’s blocking solely on keyword matches is broken. That’s not a judgment on spam filtering in general, it’s a judgment on a technique that’s been discredited for years now.

  11. I can appreciate this story. I am an insurance agent and my domain and email has my name and the word “insurance” connected as one word. Many ISP have sent my client commications to the spam folder. I decided to add a new url to my domain as a solution. I chose a name that described what I do which is Employee Benenfits for Small Employers. The combination of the words I used small____benefits (intentionally missing second word to discourage spammers) ended up in the same spam filters. Why? It has the words ‘small’ and ‘benefits’ in the domain name.
    I give up! I need to learn the tricks spammers use because I get thier emails. Maybe if I used thier tricks I could get my legit emails through.

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