The e-mail scandal


A new study shows that 11.7 per cent of messages that were requested by an e-mail subscriber never reached the recipient’s inbox. Six per cent were incorrectly routed to a junk-mail folder, and 5.7 per cent never arrived in any form.

The problem is faulty spam filters put in place by major ISPs such as MSN and AOL. In their attempts to reduce UBE (unsolicited bulk e-mail, 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 e-mail accounts from each major ISP. He then subscribed to 20 companies’ e-mail 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 (206) 282-6312.

The findings lend weight to a growing scandal I’ve been investigating. You can no longer rely on e-mail delivery. With UBE nearing 50 per cent of all e-mail 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, America Online Inc.’s new 8.0 version provides a Report As Spam button. One legitimate e-mail service says 99 per cent of its spam complaints now come from AOL (

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 sympathize 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.

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

In the U.S., junk faxes and automated telemarketing calls are already against federal law. Adding “unsolicited bulk e-mail” to the act would be a big help. But it’s strongly opposed by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), a lobbying group for 4,700 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 e-mail to people who didn’t request it. Thanks to this lunacy, soon only half your e-mail will get through.

Livingston is co-author of 10 Windows Secrets books. Fax tips to (206) 282-6312. Subscribe to Window Manager and E-Business Secrets at