Buck passed as mail binned

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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Web hosting companies are complaining that large numbers of genuine e-mails sent to thousands of small firms are being deleted without trace by an overzealous YahooXtra spam filter.

The issue is affecting businesses that have not opted to set up an e-mail account for their website and have instead arranged for their e-mail to be forwarded to a Yahoo- Xtra address.

Telecom outsourced its e-mail service to YahooXtra in August. Telecom spokesman Nick Brown denies there are technical problems with the service, and blames web-hosting companies for forwarding mail without filtering it first for spam.

Simon McBeth, a spokesman for Domainz, one of the country's largest web hosters, says about 2000 of its customers may have been affected. But he says that because e-mail is being wiped completely, rather than sent to junk mail boxes or bounced back to senders, many businesses may not even know their mail is not being delivered.

Galen King, director of Christchurch web-hosting firm Lucid Design, says that till YahooXtra took over Telecom's e-mail service, customers had been able to redirect mail sent to their websites without problems. "Redirecting has worked flawlessly for years."

Six of its 100 customers complained after becoming suspicious they were losing e-mail and 20 to 30 may have been affected.

"Some of our clients have lost huge amounts of business. I believe someone needs to be held to account."

Gail McKnight's business, Cape Farewell Horse Treks, was one that suffered.

"Last year I was taking loads of bookings and this year there were none for January," she says.

"I am absolutely miffed, but there is nothing I can do about it."

After Lucid Design set up an e-mail account for the website she received three bookings in one day.

John Kershaw, director of Auckland web-hosting firm Webstream, says 30 of its 200 customers may have lost mail.

"Some customers are being severely affected."

He believes the experience demonstrates that Telecom's decision to outsource its e-mail service to the Australia-based YahooXtra joint venture was wrong.

"It would be nice if New Zealanders kept their e-mail under their control."

Wellington hosting company iServe and Domainz's Mr McBeth say a more recent phenomenon is YahooXtra intermittently refusing all mail sent from their servers.

"I can understand why YahooXtra is filtering for spam, but its filter is so severe it is resulting in 'false positives'," he says.

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Mr King says large amounts of spam are nevertheless getting through the filter.

Mr Brown says that, unlike Xtra, YahooXtra filters mail according to senders' reputations. If large amounts of spam are being sent to a contact address on a hosted website then all e-mail forwarded from the web address may be binned.

This is more likely if hosting companies have set up the website to forward any e-mail sent to it, regardless of whether it is properly addressed.

The solution is not to redirect mail in this way. "The spam filters are working as designed and will continue to be optimised over time."

Mr Brown says Telecom is filtering three times as much spam as it did a year ago. It did not advise customers of the implications of reputation-based filtering on redirected mail as it could not know who would be affected.

 

- The Dominion Post

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