[Mailman-Users] problems with new web host and "too many complaints"

Jeffrey Goldberg jeffrey at goldmark.org
Fri Aug 31 21:23:55 CEST 2007

On Aug 30, 2007, at 9:24 PM, Jonathan Dill wrote:

> I have a customer who has a fairly large opt-in only mailman mailing
> list (~40,000 subscribers) that they use to send out a weekly
> newsletter,

How was the "opt-in" done?  Was it done with Mailman's confirmation  
process, or  would it have been possible for person A to accidently  
or maliciously get person B on the list?  If the latter, I would  
consider the list mailing unacceptable.

> people seem to primarily subscribe for the weekly contest
> for free tickets to events.  Unsubscribe links are conspicuous, and
> people who otherwise complain are unsubscribed from the list.

A great deal of spam contains fake unsubscribe information.  Indeed  
following the "unsubscribe" information in spam often gets you "opted  
in" to more lists because you have proved (1) that a human actually  
reads the mail sent to that address, and (2) that the human who does  
read that mail is gullible.

> Recently, they moved their web hosting to a new service, and the new
> service shut down their website because they had received "too many
> complaints" about the newsletter, which mentions the website address.

Obviously there are "too many" members of the list who do not believe  
that they opted in to it.  Why might that be?

> I
> would have thought it would be easier to follow the unsubscribe link
> than track down the hosting company for the website, which makes me
> wonder if these "complaints" are being generated by some kind of
> antispam software.

You sound like someone defending "opt-out" mass mailing.  I've  
described above why people (correctly) avoid the opt-out instructions  
in what the think might be spam.

> The host forwarded a "sample" but stripped out some
> of the message headers, so all I can tell is that it really was in
> response to the newsletter.

This is normal practice to prevent the list managers from merely  
engaging in "list washing" (removing the complainers while continuing  
to send the spam to many people who never really wanted it but don't  
bother to complain.

> Now the web host is talking about requiring that all of the  
> subscribers
> be required to "opt in" again or be unsubscribed from the list--to be
> honest, that might not be a bad idea, but the customer wants to  
> avoid this.

That is a good idea.  This is really the only way your customer can  
continue with the mass mailing.  There may have been things that your  
customer might have done earlier to prevent this state of affairs,  
but at this point, what the hosting providers are suggesting is the  
only way forward, unless your customer can document how each address  
came to be added to the list with some evidence that the  person who  
reads mail at that addresses confirmed the process.

> Has anyone else run into a situation like this and have some practical
> advice?

I certainly have experience from the other end.  A few years ago some  
unknown person signed me up to scores of lists that didn't do proper  
confirmation.  Apparently, this bit of abuse is known as "list bombing".

> They have been asking me about technical ways to circumvent the
> problem, but that sounds like a really bad idea to me for several
> reasons,

Your customer will either have to

   (1) do what the hosting company says (and that can be done with  
mailman) or
   (2) prove that each address was added by the person behind that  
address or
   (3) close up shop or
   (4) find a spammer friendly hosting service.


Jeffrey Goldberg                        http://www.goldmark.org/jeff/

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