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Irrational Blacklisting Of Blogs By Unaccountable Entities

Shel Holtz
Expert Author
Published: 2005-05-30

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Neville and I were copied on an email from Steve O'Keefe over at the IAOC in which he said he tried sending out the association's newsletter but it kept bouncing back.

The reason, he learned, was the URL for our podcast, "For Immediate Release." The URL was in the body of the message, but the mail server at the IAOC's Internet Service Provider wouldn't let the email go through as long as our URL was included. We were, it turns out, on a couple of blacklists.

Specifically, we were listed on some RBLs, which stands for "Real-time Blackhole List." One was through a mail provider called Outblaze, the other a private service called SURBL. According to the SURBL Web site, "SURBLs differ from most other RBLs in that they're used to detect spam based on message body URIs (usually web sites). Unlike most other RBLs, SURBLs are not used to block spam senders. Instead they allow you to block messages that have spam hosts which are mentioned in message bodies."

Email spam is at the heart of these blacklists. That confounded Neville and me, since we don't send any email at all from "For Immediate Release." The site, in fact, is a blog. We have an email address so listeners can send us their comments, but when we reply we use our personal email accounts. Not one email has ever been sent from the forimmediaterelease.biz domain. Our guess: somebody spoofed our domain in a spam, although we can't get Outblaze to let us know if that's what happened.

Once we got it resolved, which required a flurry of emails, Neville found out his domain, nevon.net, was also blacklisted. Another round of emails was required to have his domain removed from the blacklist.

In both instances, the owner of the SURBL site suggested he'd feel better about whitelisting us if we had spam policies on our sites. It was the combination of the vigilante approach to spam coupled with the requirement to publish an email policy that raised my eyebrows. At their core, of course, blogs are web sites. But they are part of what I have taken to calling the "collaborative" or "social web," not the "reference web" with which most people are most familiar. How many blogs distribute email of any kind? Damn few, I suspect. Should bloggers be forced to post email policies just to comply with individuals creating blacklists that ISPs use to keep spam out of their customers' in-boxes? How many bloggers have given any thought to posting email policies? How many bloggers have even figured out whether their blogs' URLs are on a blacklist?

Spam is a problem, to be sure. It's one of the reasons RSS is growing some popular. And I applaud anybody who can figure out a way to deal with the spam problem. Spam has had a serious impact on the level of trust most people apply to email. But I'm troubled by individuals with no formal authority who add domains to blacklists without notifying the domain owner. If, by chance, a domain owner discovers he's been blacklisted, rectifying the situation can be time-consuming and difficult.

I've added an email policy to the "For Immediate Release" blog just to avoid any further problems with vigilante anti-spammers. But there has to be a better way to go about this than penalizing innocent site owners and bloggers who have never sent a single email of any kind through their domains.

If you want to check your domain, here's one place where you can find out if you've been blacklisted: http://www.rulesemporium.com/cgi-bin/uribl.cgi

Link: International Association Of Online Communicators

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About the Author:
Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

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