net.wars: Breaking the kneecaps of email

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 03 June 2005

I should be grateful to Verizon. Really. No one answers email any more. And Verizon keeps me from being paranoid about it.

Wendy M Grossman

Four months ago, I wrote about the problems I had emailing my agent at Verizon. At the time, the company admitted that, yes, it was blocking email, but denied that it was blocking entire geographical regions. For spam protection, dontcha know.

But, Verizon said, whatever blocking it was doing was all right because it was instituting a whitelist. All my agent – or any other Verizon user – had to do was submit my address and they'd remove it from the block. Hahahahahahaha.

That was in early January. I can report that as recently as three days ago, email sent to her from my London-based home mail server still bounced. She herself says that email from Africa reaches her; email from Europe generally doesn't; email from Asia sometimes does. She has tried to whitelist her European correspondents with varying success. Some, like me, never get whitelisted. Some get whitelisted, and then mysteriously drop off the whitelist after a little while, unpredictably.

I have workarounds: I email her from addresses I have on AOL, CompuServe, or The WELL, all of which are based in the US. They all arrive successfully. Anything sent from UK-based addresses fails.

Last Friday, just for grins, I tried again. Unlike previously, when the first bounce wouldn't arrive for four hours, it now bounced immediately.

It said:

Failed to deliver to '<name>@verizon.net'
SMTP module(domain verizon.net) reports:>
return-path address rejected by relay.verizon.net:
550 You are not permitted to send mail. Please visit http://www.verizon.net/whitelist to request removal.

So I sat on the Group W bench, and I filled out the form, and I had fun playing with the pencils there, and a response page popped up and said, essentially, We'll let you know by email, don't call us, we'll call you. "Due to the volume of inquiries we receive relating to security matters, we unfortunately cannot provide a specific time frame for each response." Gee, why such volume, do you think?

And about half an hour later, I got a message that said: "After investigation, Verizon Online Security has determined that e-mail from your IP address will not be allowed access to the Verizon Online e-mail domain. Once you have addressed any security-related issues on your network, you should contact Verizon Online Security via this form. At that time, we will work with you to restore normal e-mail traffic or to take other action as we deem appropriate."

There is no information on how I am supposed to fix my network to meet their standards, no phone number, and no address I can email for help.

It transpires that I can, however, email people at verizon.com, including their PR people.

Who said, "We do not filter spam based on any geographic criteria. So, although there has been an active Internet rumour circulating that we 'block all mail from Europe,' this is absolutely not true."

Right. It's just that people from Europe find that their email to folks at verizon.net bounces. What a coincidence.

That the company also tells customers that they can avoid the blockades by paying more money to upgrade to their own domain and a higher-priced service? Also surely a coincidence. (I can actually see the logic there. If you pay the lower price, you get the mass-market service, one spam filter fits all. If you want a non-standard service, you pay more. And since those are going to be the people who are technically able enough to run their own servers and spam filters, clearly it's a business service. Fair enough, I suppose.) The PR people declined to give any information about what actually is being blocked, "because to do so only arms the spammers with information they can use to thwart the protections."

I am not a spammer. No one uses my network to send spam. I own my own domain. I can't get onto the whitelist.

It is absolutely incredible to me that a major telco providing email service to so many people is allowed to get away with this nonsense. Six months! And we've become such wimps. In the old days, Netheads would have stormed the barricades and Done Things. Remember the good old days of the Usenet Death Penalty? I'm just saying.

Of course, now we have lawyers. The class action suit against Verizon for this mess is still pending. Latest is that preliminary settlement talks "appear to have stalled", according to the law firm.

Many, many people do want spam filtering. My agent even says that in fact much of Verizon's spam filtering works very well, except, she adds, for the ever-increasing flood of apparently foreign-sourced 409 scams asking for help getting huge sums of money out of Nigeria or wherever. But if ever there were a case to prove the Old Net's insistence that users should be given tools to make filtering decisions for themselves, this is it.

But they're right. They're not blocking all of Europe. I got friends to send test email messages to my agent from their UK addresses. And one got through.

Damn. That means it really is me they hate.

Foreigners... probably French. - You can discuss this article on our discussion board.

Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).