Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(May 2002)

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Subject: Re: large ISPs blocking mailing lists
From: Mikael Hansen <meh @ dnai . com>
Date: Sat, 18 May 2002 20:27:42 -0700
To: list-managers @ greatcircle . com
In-reply-to: <5 . 0 . 2 . 1 . 2 . 20020516080454 . 01cfc2c0 @ mail . earthlink . net>
References: <5 . 0 . 2 . 1 . 2 . 20020516080454 . 01cfc2c0 @ mail . earthlink . net>

At 8:26 -0400 5/16/02, Sean Brunnock wrote:

I think it's odd that newspapers love to run stories about mailmen
who toss mail in the trash rather than deliver it, but you never hear
about ISPs that play games with email.

That may be because good old-fashioned mail throughout history has carried with it a reputation of being sacred. The postal service has an obvious obligation to make sure that mail travels along the appointed route and is delivered at the recipient's address. Also, there is the physical envelope, and when someone opens it and reads a letter addressed to someone else, you know you have crossed the line, and not just because it may be difficult to reseal it, so you can't tell what happened. Email is often not viewed this way, but rather as a harmless little note of no significant importance. It subsequently matters less, if the mail occasionally falls into the wrong hands, and if it doesn't reach the recipient, then resending it is just a click away, or you can just write a regular letter or make a phone call instead. The built-in monitoring tools, if you will, in electronic systems add to this perception, tools that are readily available to sys admins who are less encouraged to uphold the old ethics of not crossing the line.

I think it's interesting that when we talk of large ISPs that block mail, it's "them", and when we talk of mail servers filtering spam and viruses from user accounts, it's "us". The latter is somehow okay, although such blocking implies scanning, and it strikes me as odd that only one among us has mentioned privacy, a backbone commitment of the postal service. And no matter how many unsolicited phone calls I get at dinner time, I don't anticipate the phone company scanning my calls in order to track down the spammers for my protection.

At 4:38 -0400 5/17/02, Sharon Tucci wrote:

Can you say there is no conflict of interest when possibly the
largest ISP worldwide is under the same ownership as a major news
network AND this ISP is restricting mail delivery that its subscribers
have ASKED to receive?

At 20:06 -0400 5/17/02, John R Levine wrote:

That would require a level of sophistication and coordination that far
exceeds anything I've seen at AOL, even though their postmaster staff is
quite sophisticated.

They're up to their eyeballs trying to keep the porn, viagra, and
obvious financial fraud out of their users mailboxes.

You may likely respond yes if I asked you if it's fair to say that things have gotten out of hand. But would you also respond likewise if I asked you if it's problematic to toss basic user privacy out the window in trying to deal with it? In other words, what is it that sets the self-proclaimed good guys apart from the bad guys? And why is it that we are so eager to play the hero fishing the little people out of the pond? Is it perhaps because we receive no medals from helping to make sure that it doesn't happen in the first place?

At 17:46 -0400 5/18/02, Nick Simicich wrote:

I guess I do not think that technical means have failed. What has happened is that the stomach of ISPs to enforce spam blocks has failed.

Spam blocks are not to stop spam - I agree that those are doomed to failure. Spam blocks are to shun spammers, to cause their legitimate customers to abandon them, and to force compliance.

It's not like we have spammer ISPs clearly defined over there and the rest of us over here. Spammers are everywhere among us, and "legitimate" here may mean something else somewhere else.

At 8:26 -0400 5/16/02, Sean Brunnock wrote:

As far as I can surmise, there were no complaints
and the ISPs did not notify their customers or us. The ISPs simply
decided that our mail was not worthy and blocked it. We're currently
negotiating with the ISPs to lift the blocks.

Hope it works out. In our desperate 24/7 overload society, it isn't always easy to see who is who. People become nervous and overreact. It happens to the best of us. There is of course also plenty of genuine fraud out there, but just when and by whom is the line crossed?

Mikael (who has a moment ago been encouraged to "Order Viagra, Phentermine, and Other Drugs with a FREE Online Consultation!")

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