E-mail Jail

Somebody must’ve gone my bail.

I have been in e-mail jail for the last two weeks. I was out for about one day, but then I was thrown back into the clinker. I may have violated my parole. I do not know. You never know. No one ever tells you why you were put in jail; in fact, no one even tells you that it happened. All that you know is that something that worked for a long period of time no longer works.

I send a lot of e-mails. As webmaster of the New England Bridge Conference, I keep a database of players in New England, and every month or so I try to keep them apprised of developments. I use a program that I wrote to send the e-mails, which are customized for the group receiving them. Unfortunately, the last two times that I attempted this I was thrown in the hoosegow in the middle of the project. I only found out when I never received my test e-mails.

After thirty or so (no exaggeration) exchanges with my ISP I learned a little bit about what is going on. The company that runs the server, iPower, uses a “spam filter” program to determine whether to send an e-mail that is generated from a script (program). I assume that the spam filter actually runs on a different server or at least was developed by someone else. Most of the technical support people seemed totally unaware that it was even possible for a script to generate an e-mail that never got sent. They kept checking the e-mail logs for the e-mails. When they were not there, they repeatedly asked me to debug my scripts more carefully.

Evidently there are independent companies that keep “blocklists” of known spanners. If you are on one of these lists, and your ISP’s filter program checks them, you will not be allowed to send a mailing. You won’t be informed of what happened, why, or when. You will need to figure it out yourself. On iPower I could still use their webmail program to send individual e-mails even after the scripted mailings stopped working. I was also able to receive e-mails.

Here is how I think that the process works. Someone received an e-mail. He/she did not ask me to remove them from the list. I always respond to those requests immediately. Instead he/she complained to his/her ISP (Comcast, Cox, AOL, Google, or whomever). The ISP complained to one or more of the spam detection companies, and I got blocklisted.

The problem is not that individuals got irritated by e-mail from unwanted sources. The people who provide the e-mail software could solve that problem easily by allowing users to maintain a list of “from addresses” that they want to delete immediately. Outlook has this feature, and I have used it for years. I suspect that the ISP’s are actually concerned about the e-mails using up precious bandwidth. Their approach cannot do much to stop spam. Since I have no idea who registered the original complaint, I will probably send them another unwanted e-mail.

There is no court for spam offenses. It is like support for terrorism. If someone suspects you of committing the crime, you are thrown in jail without notice. You have to find someone who can get you out of jail and convince them to do it.

I expect to be back in jail before the year is out. Could someone send me a cake with a hacksaw in it?