The email scandal

A new study has found that 11.7% of messages that were requested by an email subscriber never reached the recipient's inbox. Six percent were incorrectly routed to a junk mail folder, and 5.7% never arrived in any form.

A new study has found that 11.7% of messages that were requested by an email subscriber never reached the recipient's inbox. Six percent were incorrectly routed to a junk mail folder, and 5.7% never arrived in any form.

The problem is faulty spam filters put in place by major ISPs such as Earthlink, MSN and AOL. In their attempts to reduce UBE (unsolicited bulk email, or spam), these services appear to be whacking many messages people actually want.

The author of the study, George Bilbrey, used a simple method. He obtained several email accounts from each major ISP. He then subscribed to 20 companies' email alerts and watched his inboxes for three months. The result? Almost one in eight messages didn't make it.

Of course, this study is small and a bit subjective. Bilbrey is CEO of

Assurance Systems, a new service that tracks whether or not your messages are arriving. We desperately need a large, academic study to give us hard numbers. If you're a researcher who's done such a study, fax me at 001-206-282 6312.

The findings lend weight to a growing scandal I've been investigating. You can no longer rely on email delivery. With UBE nearing 50% of all email traffic, crude spam filters are the rage. Online billing, order updates and other messages crucial to business can't be counted on.

In the latest development, AOL's new 8.0 version provides a Report As Spam button. One legitimate email service says 99% of its spam complaints now come from AOL (see

DMNews.com).

That's because end users have redefined spam to include "anything I signed up for that I no longer want". They've been told, "Never click Unsubscribe or you'll get more spam." This advice is dead wrong; spammers don't care who unsubscribes and don't value tiny opt-out lists. But users now think crying "spam" is unsubscribing.

I sympathise with people who are desperate to stop the flow. But spam filters put a band-aid on the wrong end of the problem. When a broken pipe is filling your basement with water, bailing away with a bucket does little good. The only solution is to find the intake valve and shut it off.

I wrote seven months ago that UBE was quadrupling annually (see

You can stop spam.) In two years, 16 times more spam will hit your router. This spells gridlock.

Junk faxes and automated telemarketing calls are already against US federal law. Adding "unsolicited bulk email" to the act would be a big help. But it's strongly opposed by the US' Direct Marketing Association (DMA), a lobbying group for 4700 companies.

"We don't think an opt-in regime has economic viability," says DMA senior vice president Jerry Cerasale. "If you go with opt-in, you foreclose the economic viability of this as a marketing channel."

It's insane for DMA members to send email to people who didn't request it. Thanks to this lunacy, soon only half your email will get through.

Send tips to contributing editor, Livingston. He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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