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Yahoo! Businesses The Internet Spam

Yahoo Blocks Venerable Email List Over False Positives 358

RomulusNR writes "Yahoo has stopped delivering This Is True, Randy Cassingham's 14-year-old mailing list, because too many Yahoo readers have mistakenly or carelessly flagged it as spam. Yahoo readers make up over 10% of True's readership, slashing the ad revenue that keeps it going. And Yahoo doesn't negotiate with spammers. As Randy describes it: 'The yahoos... ask to be put on True's distribution, then confirm that request, and... then click the "This is Spam" button when they don't recognize the mailing or simply don't want it anymore. Yes, those yahoos have screwed thousands upon thousands of others who really do want my newsletter. Too bad: Yahoo is listening to the yahoos instead: they're blocking it. To them, we're "spammers" and no protestations from "spammers" count.' The irony is that This is True is one of the first profitable mailing lists, predating Yahoo! Mail by almost three years."
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Yahoo Blocks Venerable Email List Over False Positives

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  • double standard (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nategoose ( 1004564 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @05:57PM (#24459691)
    I'm all the time clicking "this is spam" on stuff that Yahoo sends to my yahoo account, but I still get it. What's up with that?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:15PM (#24459869)
      Thats because they know you're p3n1s really is that small.
    • Re:double standard (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <shadow.wrought@g ... om minus painter> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:17PM (#24459889) Homepage Journal
      I'm all the time clicking "this is spam" on stuff that Yahoo sends to my yahoo account, but I still get it. What's up with that?

      Me, too. They also started throwing all the moveon e-mails and tor e-mails into the spam folder as well. So is yahoo not delivering the mail at all, or just throwing it straight into folks spam folder?
      • Re:double standard (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sleepy ( 4551 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:50PM (#24460157) Homepage

        Hint: People are deliberately signing up for MoveOn lists, then flagging it as spam.

        This is not news - it's a pretty well-known competitive dirty trick.

        • Re:double standard (Score:4, Interesting)

          by k8to ( 9046 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @07:13PM (#24460353) Homepage

          1 - 1998-ish? I deliberately signed up for moveon.
          2 - I read it for years, but it got more screechy.

          3 - 2001-ish - I tried to unsubscribe, twice. Tis failed twice.
          4- I began using "mark as spam" on moveon mail because it was UNWANTED bulk email, which is basically spam.

          5- 2002ish - Bored of marking their mail as spam, I tried unsubscribing again and it worked.

          That's the end of my story.

    • Yeah. Must not be a very smart learning machine... I've flagged everything in my yahoo inbox as spam for years, that had anything that wasn't an english lower-ascii charactor, and I'll be damned, that is what 99% of my spam still is.
    • Not sure. I opted out of all the Yahoo! stuff in the preferences a long time ago, and I don't get anything from them.
    • If Yahoo can block a request for an email from a specific domain, can my ISP (AT&T-Yahoo) decide to block search requests from a specific domain? Of course, Google would probably skip the blogging/Slashdot steps, and go straight for lawyer/courthouse steps.

      Side issue, but I assumed that defining spam was training your personal filter, and not applied to the accounts of other people. Much like a spell-checker will highlight a persons name, and you select 'add it' so it won't get highlighted again. Yo
      • Both Google and Yahoo (not sure about Hotmail) use global spam filters that everyone trains, the idea being that the more training the filter gets, the more accurate it is. Seems there are flaws with that idea.

      • Re:Net Neutrality? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by perlchild ( 582235 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @07:27PM (#24460467)

        It's common practice for larger email providers to treat any large movements of personal training as indicative of the nature of an email(if a bunch of people tag it as spam for themselves, it must be spam for everyone, going into dns-blacklists, etc, even if a few people tag it ham). This is a single-provider example of what people do when they report spam to spamcop, except spamcop's blacklist expands the concept to more than one provider.

        Just because your personal training data is used in a personal context, it doesn't mean it cannot be used, statistically(99% of people marked this as spam, block it at the smtp level, we're wasting cpu cycles receiving this).

        You should be using a filter, not the spam reporting feature for this... What people delete unread is not(yet) tracked. What's flagged has spam carries a black mark...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      There's another reason for everyone to switch to Gmail.
    • Doesn't work for Hotmail, either, which is especially annoying, considering my IM client will then spam me, telling me that I've got mail.

  • Assuming the mailing list includes a List-Unsubscribe header, it would be nice for anti-spam software to use this header and avoid false positives.

    Of course that could be used as a spammer to verify e-mail addresses, then again a better filter is more useful on the long run than assuming no malicious party will ever put your e-mail in a database.

    • Re:List-Unsubscribe? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:26PM (#24459977)

      Umm... no.

      I get a lot "to unsubscribe, mail to blah@blub..." spam. The reason is simple, when you do unsubscribe from the spam list, they know it's a valid and still active mail address.

      You have no idea how much that increases your value as a spam target!

      So when spamfilters automatically write to some unsub address instead of flagging something as spam, be prepared to be flooded with spam.

      • Re:List-Unsubscribe? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:40PM (#24460079)

        Isn't Yahoo in an ideal position to make this sort of probing useless? Just redirect all non-existent traffic with an unsubscribe header to a daemon that requests to be unsubscribed... then if you keep getting mail, you either ignore it or you use it, since you have the largest pool of honeypot email addresses on the planet.

        Likewise they could in theory hit unsubscribe on behalf of their customers and then grab the resultant traffic. Of course, this is more open to attack, as the attacker can just switch email addresses. But if you're also unsubscribing all non-existent traffic, I'd say this will actually begin to get a lot more expensive for the would-be spammer than Yahoo, and the spammer would just stop trying to brute-force Yahoo.

  • But... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:03PM (#24459761)

    Is this true?

  • It's Yahoo.

    If it's still like it used to be a few years ago at Yahoo when I first got online, a huge chunk of those email addresses aren't even owned by the original creators anymore. People create the addresses, sometimes they forget about them or the address was "disposable" anyways, hackers steal them, then mark stuff the original creator was actually reading as spam.
  • Seems to me ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    When we start blocking legitimate email, the spammers win.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:32PM (#24461321) Homepage Journal

      When we start blocking legitimate email, the spammers win.

      How the hell can this be considered insightful? When we start blocking legitimate e-mail, people will no longer read their e-mail, and the spammer loses.
      The spammer doesn't win anything by you not getting a legitimate e-mail. She wins only if you read and act upon her e-mail.

      • by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @11:06PM (#24461867)

        People confuse effects with motivation.

        For example, terrorists couldn't possibly care less about our freedoms. Their goal is not to destroy the 4th amendment or whatever else. That's just a side effect. Their goal (speaking of the standard Islamic terrorist here) is to get Western troops out of the Arab countries.

        In this case, spammers just want to make money. But as a side effect to this, they end up destroying the utility of e-mail. So people start thinking that destroying the utility of e-mail is actually their goal, when it couldn't be further from the truth.

  • Maybe the problem is the mechanism for selecting mailing lists. Have all of these on a separate page with all un-checked by default, or have one of those "I understand what I am doing" mandatory check boxes. A lot of the time, sign-up pages are deceptive because they are also used to promote "partners."
  • by lena_10326 ( 1100441 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:22PM (#24459937) Homepage

    Cassingham reports that there are over 120,000 subscribers to the mailing list for True from over 200 countries

    Or so wikipedia claims. []

    Do you have any idea how utterly small that is? I'm surprised they can pay their bills with a list that small--even with a fraction of those being paid subscribers.

    • I make mailing list software for a living. I've seen our customer's lists.

      120,000 is a nice, respectable number for someone who actually has everyone opt-in. Especially when we're talking one guy.

      • by lena_10326 ( 1100441 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @08:30PM (#24460905) Homepage

        Yea... only if it's 1 guy.

        120,000 subscribers probably means 5% paid, 95% unpaid: so a 1 year signup is $24, then 6000 * $24 = $144,000 per year, plus ad revenue, let's use a conservative 2.5% email click-thru and another 2.5% ad CPA (and averaging a 50 cent CPC), 1 email per user per week: 115,000*0.01 = 28,750 clicks * 7,187 * 0.50 ~= $3500 per month (approx), about $186k gross per year. There's probably additional banner click revenue, but his site is sure to be low-volume, negligible profit there.

        So.. he's probably pulling about $175-200k a year (give or take, but I'd be surprised if it was more than $250k), but consider you need to subtract ISP costs of about $1k a month, lawyer & accountant fees, advertising costs, which usually runs very high, maybe 30% (conservative since I've seen ad costs up to 50-75%), he's probably clearing $100k to $150k per year. Not much left over to hire a secretary. Very small time operation.

  • If they really are demonstrably not spam and follow responsible practices and they are really profitable then they should contract with Goodmail or some other accreditation system and take mistaken users out of the picture.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 )

      Those systems have more spammers than nonspammers signed up to them. It simply doesn't work... in fact some of them (the one that use haikus for example) they became a near 100% perfect spam detector.

  • by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:28PM (#24459989) Homepage

    When somebody subscribes to one of my mailing lists, and confirms, we need a token from the mailbox provider which, when included on an incoming email means that the email is NEVER spam. Spam reports get converted into unsubscribe requests.

    But there's no standard for this.

  • Oh, grow up. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:32PM (#24460015) Homepage Journal

    Spam filtering is a problem for all mailing lists. Simple solution: use newsfeeds instead.

    • And when the ISPs stop delivering the newsfeeds?

      • by fm6 ( 162816 )

        Newsfeeds are not "delivered", at least not in the sense that email is. Your newsreader retrieves them directly from the provider's HTTP server.

        • Oh, sorry, for a moment, I'd confused this with newsgroups. When you mentioned HTTP, it helped -- I still think of those as "RSS feeds".

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:33PM (#24460021)
    I've had it for nearly 10 years. However, Yahoo's delivery of email into my account is sketchy at best.


    Why can gmail (my new free email provider) do such a better job than Yahoo did?

  • the amount of SPAM I get on my single Yahoo email account is tremendous.

    To distinguish legimate emails is difficult, so the "select all -> SPAM" is the option for me to deal with this.

    This email account is actually an annoyance - I tried closing it - impossible with more than reasonable effort. So - it's the quick SPAM option since I am no longer using this account.

    In comparison - my several Gmail accounts do not attract very much SPAM and if so they get filtered.

    My conclusion is that Yahoo's SPAM fi
    • by dAzED1 ( 33635 )
      it's tried closing it... Did you try simply not checking it anymore? Or does that not win you enough martyr points for the pain and suffering you go through from your free email? I've had yahoo mail for many years, as well as even hotmail (since long before it was with MS). I can go a week with either account, log in, and will have a dozen spam email in my inbox. Sure, there's lots in the spam box, what. And I even use these accounts to sign up for things; hell, that's half the
  • How about we all configure our mail server to reject any mail from yahoo - that should cut down a fair bit of crap from my inbox... :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:40PM (#24460075)

    most of them think it's a way of unsubscribing from a list.

    Causes blacklisting for domains and hosting companies. I had a guy who forwarded his email address to an external address, then clicked on "This is spam" for every message. My IP was in the header so I got blacklisted. I had to scare the shit out of him to get him to stop "now that I've warned you, if you continue, I'll sue and take your house." Needless to say the customer did not renew, saved me the trouble of TOSsing him.

  • You know that email you get to confirm subscriptions? It should be in a standard format, containing a public key and an unsubscribe mechanism. That way, mailers would know for a fact that somebody opted-in and could provide an unsubscribe button instead of a spam button.

    Perhaps this already exists? I know there are already some standard mailing list mail headers, but I don't think they cover this, do they?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @06:56PM (#24460209)

    I gave up on Yahoo several months ago after an unknown person hijacked my account and changed the password. I don't log in from other computers, I only log in from the Mac in my bedroom, so it's not like I was creating a risk. I was paying Yahoo for a personalized "business" email address, yet it took three hours of phone calls, several emails and over three days to get them to turn my account back over to me. At one point, they told me they could not verify my identity with my name, phone number, mailing address and the credit card number they were billing. They said they couldn't unlock the account without me telling them what my security question was (which I chose 10 years ago), and the answer to that question. I told them, "that's not how security questions work. You ask me the security question and unlock my account when I provide the correct answer." When I finally did get back into my account, I discovered the hijacker had been contacting women through Yahoo personals posing as me, and in some cases telling them to "reply to my other Yahoo address." There were a few different addresses he was pointing people to. I notified Yahoo about this and asked them to investigate the fraud, and they told me it wasn't a priority for them. I migrated everything important to Google, and called Yahoo to cancel my account and transfer my personalized domain, but after hours of waiting on the phone, again, and again, they tell me they don't have the ability to release my domain. It's like dealing with a car salesman. As the company fails, it resorts to shadier practices to hold onto what it has, like AOL before it.

  • Such irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @07:21PM (#24460409) Homepage Journal

    The irony is that This is True is one of the first profitable mailing lists, predating Yahoo! Mail by almost three years.

    What's ironic about it?

    [rhetorical question to highlight "irony" word abuse]

  • by NynexNinja ( 379583 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @07:26PM (#24460461)
    I stopped using Yahoo about 4-5 years ago because of problems with inbox delivery. After many tests, their mail servers would respond that the message was Sent when in fact it was never delivered. I've tested it about 20-30 times since then and have the same issues. Even if you send mail from supposedly vanity domains like, the mail still never gets delivered. Yahoo has had problems before with the site getting infiltrated by spammers about 5-7 years ago, a problem they never solved. It seems like the problems don't go away -- they only get worse. This story is just one example.
  • by John3 ( 85454 ) <john3@cornells . c om> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @07:34PM (#24460513) Homepage Journal

    I run a relatively small (2,000 subscribers) email discussion list for hardware store owners. I'm signed up as a mailing list provider with AOL's mail system, and I receive notifications when subscribers submit my list messages as spam. Apparently AOL's DELETE and REPORT AS SPAM buttons are relatively close together, though I can't verify this. I do know that I get notifications from AOL that a user has reported a message as spam, and when I contact the user they tell me it was a mistake and they didn't realize they had reported the message as spam.

    My guess is that you have to reach a fairly high "critical mass" of spam reports before AOL will actually take action and block list messages. I've never had my list blocked by AOL (or Yahoo for that matter) so the occasional erroneous report doesn't seem to have much effect.

    I wonder if Yahoo has a similar program for mailing list admins?

  • by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @08:29PM (#24460899)

    From both Yahoo and AOL users: If they don't want something, they just mark it spam, even if they signed up for it.

    In fact, we have customers that pay us money every month to send them leads on their inventory, and ever month, we have a few of them (AOL users) mark legitimate inquiries as spam. And they not only asked us to send them to them, they're PAYING US to send them to them!!!

  • Equivalences (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AdamWill ( 604569 ) on Monday August 04, 2008 @01:34AM (#24462753) Homepage

    From the original article, by the owner of the list:

    "It's like shooting a gun into a crowd of people, then walking away before seeing what happened."

    So, marking an email as spam accidentally is "like" cold-blooded indiscriminate murder.

    No, hold on a minute, I know -

    it isn't!

    Grow a sense of perspective, you self-important blowhard.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's