Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #204 - September 14, 2007

Censorship and You

We're mad as heck and we aren't going to take it anymore! But we have to! We have no choice. After yet another bizarre week when many readers didn't get our InfoAve Premium (issue #203) - we were reminded of something we have known for a long time: ISP's lie. This week our ISP prevarication awards go to Comcast.net and Shaw.ca (Shaw's been itching for this award for years).

Before we get into the mess that ISP censorship causes you, the subscriber, us the publisher, and others who are involved in legitimate Internet enterprises, we want to give you a little background on how the newsletter is sent.

Each Friday morning, we send the newsletter to ALL subscribers. We don't send to some and not to others. We send the newsletter to everyone on the list at the same time. We receive letters from some subscribers wondering why we didn't send them their copy of the newsletter. What we're trying to here is assure you we don't send to Bill, Jackie, Ellen and Sam, and arbitrarily choose not to send it to Helen, Mark, David, Beth and Robert. That would make no sense and it would be virtually impossible to do that. When we send the newsletter it goes out to each person who has paid to receive it. This means that if you don't receive then there is something going on between our mail server and your computer that is preventing you from receiving it.

And, we are aware that sometimes mail servers go down or are slow due to heavy traffic. If a server is down, our newsletter is resent after six hours. If the server is still down, it is resent again in another six hours. This process is repeated for 24 hours (that's 4 resends). We do all we can do to make sure that everyone who has paid for this newsletter receives this newsletter.

Besides the big problem of ISP censorship, which we'll dig into shortly, there are a couple of other reasons why subscribers do not receive our newsletters. One of these reasons is that subscribers are using Web-based email such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc. and the newsletter, for whatever reason is placed in the spam (or bulk) folder. We're aware that many people think looking in the spam folder is going to cause catastrophic hemorrhaging (or something equally distasteful) so they avoid looking in that folder like a pig avoids a bath. But, if you don't look in that folder periodically, you're going to miss some good email, including your Premium newsletter. At least these mail services provide you with the control and options to mark any mail which is good but ends up in your spam or bulk folder as "not spam". Once you mark a mail as "not spam" any future emails from that sender will be delivered to your inbox. But if you don't ever look in the spam or bulk folder, you can't mark good email as "not spam" and future emails end up in that folder and eventually are deleted without you even knowing they were there. So, please, if you have a Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or other Web-based email address, please don't be afraid to look in your spam folder and mark any good email that was placed in there as "not spam". Otherwise you're going to lose some good email and if our newsletter is one of them, you're never going to be able to read it.

Another problem, although not too common, is those of you using those ridiculous "challenge-based" spam-filters. These are the type that require the sender to click a link to "verify" they're a legitimate sender and not a spammer. It sounds good on paper, but we'll tell you what happens in reality. Newsletters like ours are sent via high-volume mail servers. In our case, we pay a professional mailing service to send  our newsletters. These challenge-based spam-filters reply to the newsletters directly, and of course we don't ever see the reply, therefore no one clicks any links to "verify" our address. The challenge-based spam-filter blocks the mail and the subscriber never sees the newsletter. And they're not aware of any of this. Challenge-based spam-filters are a nightmare for both you and any legitimate sender. They interfere with delivery of newsletters like InfoAve Premium, online orders of downloadable software, and acknowledgements of online orders. If you have one, consider getting rid of it. If you get a lot of spam and feel you need a spam filter, get a trainable one like SpamBully that lets you teach it what you consider spam and what you consider good email. But, please ditch your challenge-based spam-filter. If you don't you're not going to receive a lot of good email.

By far, and without question, the main reason Premium subscribers do not receive our newsletter is ISP censorship. Last week we were bewildered by the number of excuse these ISPs come up with to divert a customer's attention to the real culprit in this whole mess: the ISP.

Last week's "big two" Censorship Champions of the Week were Comcast and Shaw.ca. These two ISPs, instead of assisting their customers by trying to ascertain the reason the customer didn't receive the newsletter they paid for, basically lied to their customers. Some of their support personnel said we were "spammers". Some said our server was blocking their domain (if this wasn't so serious it would be funny). Some flatly denied they use any kind of spam filters at all. We had people replying to the simple, plain-test email we sent on Saturday, saying their ISP told them we were being blocked because we were spammers. If that were true, and we were being blocked because we are "spammers" then that block would apply to the simple reminder notice we sent on Saturday morning. But they received the simple 8KB notice on Saturday but not the 93KB newsletter we sent on Saturday. That proves what we've been saying all along: It's censorship based on content, not spam-filtering based on domain or IP address. If we were being blocked because Shaw or Comcast had us designated as "spammers" then the notice we sent on Saturday would not have been delivered either. The real reason why subscribers from Shaw.ca and Comcast.net did not receive their newsletter on Friday was that it contained over ten times the content of the short reminder we sent on Saturday morning. The only logical conclusion you can draw from that is the newsletter Friday was censored because of its content. In other words, Shaw.ca and Comcast are deciding what their customers are allowed to read and what they're not allowed to read. The were allowed to read Saturday's reminder, but were not allowed to read Friday's newsletter -which is what they paid for.

Until and unless there is an outcry from you - this situation will only get worse. Censorship is not a service. Blocking and deleting something you paid for is similar to destroying your private property. Once we send our newsletter to you, it belongs to you - not Comcast, Shaw, Hughes or anyone else. How would you react if you ordered something and the company that was to deliver it to you decided that it wasn't something you should have. Would you stand by and let it happen again and again, or would you see that something was done about it.

If you don't do something soon the censorship of your personal email is only going to get worse and worse. If you allow your ISP to censor your email and delete your email without giving you the opportunity to say: "Yes I want that Email" or "No I don't want that Email - it's spam" then you have only yourself to blame.

The ISPs have a myriad of lame excuses why they need to filter spam. The most notorious one is that spam clogs their servers and costs them a lot of money. WRONG. Spam, whether it is blocked or not, still comes to the ISP's mail servers. Then it has to be filtered by software and then deleted. This clogs the servers just as much or more than if they simply delivered the mail to the recipient. And, it uses more server resources to process the spam with software and scripts then delete it, than it does to deliver the mail. The ONLY reason why ISPs filter, censor, and delete mail, is so they can advertise it as a "service" and attract customers. They think you want your mail censored - even if you don't. It's a "service" you can live without. Sometimes, it's one ISP keeping up with other ISPs who offer this so-called 'service'.

Spam filtering is censorship. Anytime anyone interferes with your email based on its content, it's censorship, regardless of what else you call it. And, we have shown you that both Comcast and Shaw.ca censored and deleted your Premium newsletter on Friday based on its content.

We send our Premium newsletter, every Friday, normally before 12:00PM Eastern time. Right after it is published it is posted on your Premium Members' Home Page. If you wonder whether it has been sent, look on your Premium Members' home page anytime after 12:00PM on Friday and the latest issue will be posted. If you haven't received it by Saturday morning, and you're not using challenge-based spam-filters, then you can be pretty sure it has been, once again, censored and deleted by your ISP.

If you are one of those unfortunate ones who have an ISP who censors and deletes your email, you have three choices: You can put up with your ISP's nonsense and allow them to control what you read; you can change ISPs and find one who respects you enough and considers you smart enough to decide for yourself what email you want and delete the mail you don't want without help from them; or you can get a Web-based email account and change your subscription address. We recommend Gmail because you can set it up in Outlook Express and use it exactly like your ISP email account. It's simple to do and the Gmail account is free. You can signup for a Gmail account at www.gmail.com . We have posted a tutorial on setting up Gmail in Outlook Express (Windows Mail). Gmail's site has instructions for other mail programs like Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird and others. At least with Gmail you decide what email you will receive and what email will be deleted. Google respects your intelligence enough to give you the final say over your own email. Apparently Comcast and Shaw.ca don't think you're smart enough to deal with your own email - and they're bound and determined they're going to do it for you.

As long as you allow someone else to control your email, you're not going to receive all the email addressed to you. And that includes good email like this newsletter that you paid for.

It's time to but an end to BIG BROTHER. If don't we'll all be dealing with the consequences brought about by a society where someone else decides what we will see, hear, and read. If you look around you, we're almost there now.  Don't let your ISP tell you what email your can and cannot receive. If you don't raise your voice now it will only continue to get worse. We hope you tell Comcast and Shaw.ca what you think of their censorship - make your voice heard loud and clear.

We send our Premium newsletters to you every Friday. We post them on the Premium Home Page each Friday moments after the newsletter has been sent. We send our InfoAve free edition every Saturday. Premium subscribers who get both newsletters often get the free edition but don't get the Premium edition. Now you know why. Your ISP is "filtering" your email by content - and that my friends is called censorship. The free edition contains about 25% of the amount of the information of the Premium edition. More content, more opportunity for your ISP to censor you email. It's not right and it shouldn't be that way. The only reason it is that way is because people have been convinced by advertising and misinformed tech writers who think spam filtering is a "service". If you consider censorship a service then you deserve what you get. Most of you, though, are angry too. Now, at least, you will put the blame where it belongs.

Congratulations to Comcast and Shaw.ca! We give you both our Prevaricators of the Week award for telling customers who called you with legitimate complaints about your email censorship policies, various stories running the gamut from "we don't have any spam filters" to "they're (Cloudeight) blocking our domain" to "they are spammers" (meaning us) -and many more. We have copies of the emails you (and other ISPs) sent to your customers - full of misinformation and outright lies. Perhaps we'll publish them someday.

As for you, the customers of ISPs who censor your email and try to convince you it's a service, as long as you continue to put up with it, it will only get worse. Censorship by its very nature is never a good thing - and it's certainly not a service no matter what you read, see or hear.

ISPs who censor mail, like Comcast and Shaw, violate your rights to receive all email addressed to you. Even if some of that email is spam. It's not up to them to decide for you what email you want and what email you don't want. It's not up to someone else to determine if certain content is objectionable or not. It's up to you.

If you know a good attorney who specializes in Internet law, or if you are an attorney who specializes in Internet law we feel we have a ground-breaking, precedent-setting case. Please contact us.

We have a protected right to conduct legitimate business on the Internet. ISPs who censor email, like Comcast and Shaw, among others, interfere with our business, cost us time and money and damage our good reputation; a reputation we have earned over many years. When a newsletter like InfoAve Premium, which subscribers pay for, is not delivered, it makes us look bad and hurts our reputation. People feel we ripped them off. We didn't. We send the newsletter as promised every single Friday. And we have sent InfoAve Premium, each week now for 204 consecutive weeks. But some of our subscribers haven't received it every week because their ISP censors their email based on content. Censorship in any form should never be tolerated.

When someone orders a product from us by email and we fill the order by email and that email is subsequently blocked by ISP censorship, to the customer it appears that their order was never processed and makes us appear to be the bad guys. This interferes with business and harms our reputation. ISPs have no right to censor email. Period.

It appears the only way to stop the ISP censorship merry-go-round is by legal action against a major ISP who has provably interfered with our business, cost us countless hours of time, and damaged our reputation. We've always prided ourselves as being a company who cares about its customers and conducts business honestly and fairly. ISPs who censor, block and delete mail from us, hurt our business, cost us money and customers, and give our good name a black eye. We're mad as heck and we're not going to take it anymore. If you know an attorney (or you are an attorney) please contact us and let's see what we can do about ISPs who censor and block emails addressed to their customers.

Help us end the madness of ISP censorship. It is causing you and us problems. You have a right to receive what you paid for and we have the right to conduct business without interference by over-zealous ISPs who think censorship is their right and your privilege. Censorship in any form should never be tolerated for ANY reason.

Tell us what you think - Please

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