Is this normal (email problem -not a medical question!)
March 21, 2008 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Am I getting fair and accurate answers from my paid-for e-mail service about why so many friends and relatives get their messages to me "unfortunately" blocked as spam? Or am I right to be twitchy?

Because I am dense about these things (not false modesty), I've already tried researching the topic as far as I can (spamcop forums, for example) but I remain confused.

I keep discovering that people I've long been in contact with are receiving "mail failure" notices when trying to e-mail me at my usual Juno address. I've used the same address for years. Their emails are correctly addressed. They all write from unrelated domains.

I go through the standard steps advised by Juno Support: i.e. getting the sender to copy the failure notice to me from, say, an alternative work address, if possible. Sometimes - strangely - they can send me the failure notice from the same address that was apparently blocked.

I then send the entire failure message to Juno which prompts standard explanation(s) for the block with details how the problem will be swiftly fixed.

The explanation is always that the message was blocked by Juno's spam filters. I am now in correspondence with various individual Juno "customer care" representatives, but the explanation never varies.

[1) We've {possibly} received a large number of complaints against the Domain/IP from which the email originated. 2) If the message has certain patterns commonly associated with spam.If either of these conditions are met our spam-filters are triggered, blocking delivery of the message. However, please be assured that in light of the information you provided the block has already been lifted, and you should not be facing any further problems with delivery.]

The irritant is, this is happening increasingly frequently.
In the past month, four very regular correspondents in - variously - France, the UK, and New Zealand - have all contacted me about suddenly blocked messages. Or erratically blocked messages - that is, they remember getting bounce backs a few months previously, but can't recall when exactly, then it stopped - and started again.

This takes the total to about ten randomly blocked individuals in the past year or so.

It obviously occurs to me this could be a "tip of the iceberg" situation. I wouldn't necessarily know about other very occasional correspondents not telling me they get their emails bounced back. And just giving up trying to contact me.

I usually discover there's been a mail failure when someone phones - wondering if I've changed my e-mail service.

It's becoming a pain. Not just because I pay for Juno email.

Sometimes the sender has already deleted the "mail failure" notice. Sometimes an unblocked sender will later report further "mail failure" notices & I have to start the unblocking process again. One friend says she was receiving mail failure notices - then her emails went through fine (with no action on my part), then they started failing again.

And my mother (in France) says that, once again, this is proof of my generally terrible judgment in most matters, including my taste in fashion and films. (Which is totally off topic. And kind of a joke)

But the reason I'm asking this question now is that I finally thought to ask all my "problem" correspondents whether they get bouncebacks from anyone else. As a rule, they don't.

And I still get (and send) tons of apparently non-problem emails via Juno, some with substantial text attachments/photos etc. I also don't think I've ever had a problem with a US email correspondent - which surely can't be any factor in this?

Obviously I've just set up an alternative (free) g-mail account and intend to close my Juno account after I've saved archives etc.

My husband, who is not dense, & deals with zillions of emails at work, says he rarely - if ever - notices anyone else using Juno email. (He's puzzled about this too).

My (dubious) logic suggests Juno has over-zealous spam filters - although I'd expect this would be apparent to Juno - and smartly fixed.

Maybe I've just had a randomly, if tiresomely frequent, bunch of standard problems and - so what's the big deal?

Is the latter the simple - and humiliatingly obvious - answer?
posted by Jody Tresidder to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I work for a small local ISP, and the spam filtering solution that we use is a variation of SpamAssassin (fairly well known in the industry) I deal with spam complaints such as yours on an almost daily basis. (looking through spam filter logs, trying to figure out why certain messages were blocked, tracking email headers to isolate possible network problems)

The answer Juno is giving you:

"1) We've {possibly} received a large number of complaints against the Domain/IP from which the email originated. 2) If the message has certain patterns commonly associated with spam. If either of these conditions are met, our spam-filters are triggered, blocking delivery of the message. However, please be assured that in light of the information you provided the block has already been lifted, and you should not be facing any further problems with delivery."

...Is typical and similar to what we use. Its not incorrect, or a lie on their part, its just careful wording (specific enough to be technically correct, but vague enough to leave them some wiggle room to not have to deal with EVERY spam complaint they get. )

Look. Here's the real truth. Filtering spam is an enormously difficult task. Estimates are that 80% to 90% of all email that travels across the internet is SPAM. There is no way to create an automatic spam filter that will correctly separate legitimate email from spam reliably 100% of the time. Its just to big of a task. It is possible however (as you suspect) that Juno may be using a different brand of SPAM filtering software that isnt as good as other choices.

So when you say:
"This takes the total to about ten randomly blocked individuals in the past year or so."

My first reaction is:........... Thats a pretty small number.

Having said all that, I am really impressed with Google Gmail's spam filtering algorithm. But it looks like you've already discovered that :P
posted by jmnugent at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2008

Best answer: Off-the-cuff, I see a couple of possibilities.

1) Juno's mail servers are unintentionally broken in some way (maybe they're under too much load?) and they're bouncing email when they shouldn't.

2) Juno's mail servers are intentionally broken in some way (as you said, they've got the spam paranoia cranked too high) and they're bouncing email when they shouldn't.

Either way, if I were you I'd move to another provider. Get yourself a vanity domain and forward mail to your provider. That way you won't be trapped next time a provider goes bad on you. Some pain now, much more flexibility down the road.

(Personally, I believe no email provider should ever bounce email - the risk of false positives is too great. They should just tag it as probable spam and forward it on).
posted by Leon at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2008

Best answer: seeing as you mention correspondents not located within the US, my guess is that they are blacklisting foreign ip address blocks (foreign meaning not domestic U.S.)

We frequently did this at the small ISP I worked at, and the reasoning was thus:

a: 90+ % of the spam attempts were from foreign IPs, amounting to hundreds of thousands of messages per day.

coupled with

b: relatively small chance of false positives, given our customer base.

Now, this company was nowhere NEAR the size or popularity as Juno, and as such we figured the extremely low risk of false positives warranted the easy solution. But for a paid-email service, this sort of shotgun approach to filtering is neither warranted nor effective.

If you're at all interested in the subject, you'll want to read up on Real-time Blacklist servers (RBLs) and how they are used for spam blocking.
posted by namewithoutwords at 12:01 PM on March 21, 2008

Best answer: Spam filtering is hard, but it's not that hard. You should absolutely not be having that regular a false positive rate and you should definitely move to another provider.

If you do a lot of correspondence via email, it might be worth the Juno fee to register a domain and have an email address there that will simply forward to a gmail account, that way you can switch how you read your mail and where it's stored without telling people a new address every time.
posted by Skorgu at 2:04 PM on March 21, 2008

Best answer: I do support for a lot of different companies and hear this a lot, I'm afraid. It's difficult to completely answer your question without the bounce messages, but it's very possible that what Juno is saying is accurate. There is a particular vendor of spam filter (which I'll not name) that will allow layering of various blacklists and/or policy blacklists and these filters bounce like crazy. So, it's conceivable that Juno has put _something_ in place that would do this is long-standing senders. Very possible.

On the other hand, it's also quite possible that something is messed up in their mail servers.

In any case, the people you're corresponding with likely work for an outsourced firm (fortunately not MY firm) and they're giving you what they know or have been told to know. They may be correct. Or not!

This message was brought to you by the words "I," "don't," and "know." ;-)

But, seriously, I strongly recommend you grab two or three bounces, strip out identifying information (like IP addresses, email addresses, names) and post them here. Or send them to me in mefi mail and I'll take a peek.

posted by tcv at 5:44 PM on March 21, 2008

Response by poster: This is an interim response while I digest these answers (I am just going out on a "scavenger hunt" in NYC - kind of an oddball event that seemed a good way to explore a particular district I don't know well. Knowing my stupidity, I'll probably get lost forever).
If I come back - I'll respond properly here. For the moment, I am amazed by the general brilliance of these replies...
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:54 AM on March 22, 2008

Best answer: Unfortunately, you always have this problem lurking as long as you don't host your own mail server. Then it's completely up to you what comes in and doesn't. (Interestingly, it's also an eye-opener to just how much shinola is bouncing around out there, unseen by most everyone.) Getting a domain is good advice, but as long as that domain's mail is being hosted somewhere other than your basement, filters can be applied and unapplied as the owners see fit.

So, I guess what I am saying is, start reading up on how to host a mail server, put one in your basement, buy a domain, set your MX records to the basement and get all the mail you want (and don't want). ;-)
posted by tcv at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2008

Response by poster: To all of you, my heartfelt thanks.

It wasn't until I switched to g-mail that I found Juno lacked what seems to be basic with other servers: that is, the Juno customer remains completely unaware of emails being unilaterally banned by Juno's spam filters at a higher level.

One can only regularly check your spam files and unblock any indvidual addresses YOU have inadvertently marked as spam.

But there's no file showing stuff blocked by Juno before it gets to you.

So one is always left playing Sherlock.

Is the complaining sender SURE he sent that crucial email to me in the first place?

If so, can he copy me the failure notice?

And, if I forward the failure notice to Juno - and they promise to act - how long before, once again, I'm hearing the same correspondent is suddenly getting another round of bouncebacks? Which means restarting the whole trouble shooting steps again - until the system fails again?

But you've given me excellent advice, Actually I'm sending this whole thread to the Juno Support people And I'll also look into Skorgu's idea to register a doman with Juno to forward everything to the g-mail address.

I think g-mail is really my best bet - and I don't hold out any hope of a Juno Platinum Account refund!!

Many, many, thanks.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:23 AM on March 26, 2008

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