Tuesday, 17 April 2007 20:00
Maybe it's AOL. Maybe it's the users who gravitate towards AOL. Maybe it's a combo of the two, with AOL giving it's users tools that are too easy to use, and the users misusing them.
All I know is that I am seeing a lot of messages being reported by 'AOL' as spam. Legitimate emails. Emails that the AOL recipient was actually expecting. Yet, somehow it gets reported as spam. Why? What's going on?
I understand the spam problem. I deal with filtering it everyday. I also know that having a simple way to mark junk that slips through any filters is handy. I use something like it on the server level. But, perhaps AOL has made it too easy?
I don't have their software on any my computers, so I can't know exactly how their 'spam reporting' works. I stopped installing AOLs software back in the 90's. Yes, the 90's. But, I'm a geek who doesn't like software that takes control of my computers. I know it was great for the users who barely know how to turn on the computer. And I hear the parents claims of 'protection for the kids' excuse (a silly topic for another time). Back to this spam reporting.
Here is the problem.
An AOLer gets an email. It's a 'Get Rich Quick' spam. They highlight it, and click 'Report as Spam' (or whatever AOL calls it). Simple, right? AOL then looks at where the email came from, and starts to block the IP addresses of the sending servers. Note, I said the sending servers, NOT the senders address. This is good, because we know spammers don't use their real address. And blocking the actual sending server might be good also, since it might indicate a compromised or infected server.
Problem is that AOL seems to list ALL the servers the email passed through. This may be to protect against Open-Relay servers, which are misconfigured mail servers that spammers might hijack to get them mail out. This means that people using their web address, like
and having mail forwarded to their AOL account, are 'reporting' their own servers!
Now, even non-spam messages are blocked. Who's fault? Not sure there can be much finger pointing. The AOLer is just doing what they think is right. AOL is just trying to make it harder on spammers, and trying to protect their dwindling users.
Follow this email.
- Spammer sends mail to you at your website address: ProfessionalName @MyBusinessWebsite.com They send from: EvilMailServer.com
- The email goes to your website (on GoodProfessionalServer.com)
- You cling to AOL like a rotting teddy bear, and have all your Website mail forwarded to your AOL address: Unprofessional-Looking @AOL.com
- You hate spam, and you mark this junk properly with the handy-dandy easy button.
- AOL looks back and sees that the junk came from..... GoodProfessionalServer.com.
- That's the server your site in on! AOL placed the IP address of that server on their blacklist. That's not just your address, that's the WHOLE server, with other websites.
To prevent getting blocked, it looks like the 'forwarding to aol' will need to come to an end. If you have a 'real email address', a professional looking address using your website name, you should use it. Do not forward to aol, and perhaps to any other email address.
Non-spam reported as spam
Being able to report spam is nice. It gives you a sense of empowerment. And it does assist in blocking similar messages in the future. But, is it too easy to report it?
In the last week, I have gotten several reports from AOL about spam, with copies of the emails. In NO way were any of these messages spam. They couldn't even have been mistaken for junk. In some cases, they were messages the AOLer was expecting, from a known person, with a known subject. In another case, it was a reply to one of the AOLer's emails. Yet, they were 'reported' as spam.
Was it AOL's advanced filters tagging it without user input? (AOL claims no). Was it the AOL user? Did the user accidentally report it as spam? How? Why? Is the delete button next to the spam button? Or do they get so much spam that the user now just reports a whole list of everything in their inbox as spam?
This is troubling. Legitimate mail getting reported as spam, with AOL possibly blocking the sender's server. If you find your emails suddenly getting blocked by AOL, check with the AOL and ask them why. I fear they put too much control into the hands of their users, and, let's face it, AOL users are not the most technically advanced. Hopefully AOL takes the sharp knives away from the kiddies, and gives them dull plastic knives that just look like the real thing. (when they squeeze it, the knife says "You Got Cut")