Welcome to Kafka Mail

Imagine this scenario: You pick up the phone to call a business contact. Instead of connecting you get a message saying that your call has been blocked. Your phone number has been hijacked by an unknown person, and for unknown reasons. And in order to have your phone service restored you needed to pay a $50 fee for each call you've made to the hijacker's favorite charity. Sound far-fetched?

That is exactly what is going on with some of the so called "BlackList" organizations out there who, under the guise of doing good, are in reality victimizing innocent companies and individuals.

I found this out the hard way this week when one of my e-mails bounced to a business colleague saying I had been blacklisted by their servers. Since we don't send out e-mail, we were surprised to say the least. It turns out the company's servers had blacklisted all IP addresses that were listed with an organization called Spam and Open Relay Blocking System (SORBS).

Now SORBS is not a government agency or a known standards body. It is a group of volunteer vigilantes that have taken upon themselves to clean up Dodge. SORBS doesn't wait until someone complains about a server; they proactively look to see if it would be possible to send spam through someone's server through what is known as an open relay. If it finds an open relay, whether or not anyone has sent spam through that server, it adds that IP address to its blacklist. It also adds your IP address to a blacklist if you are even near an IP that has potentially spammed. Here is an excerpt from their site:

"First, you need to answer the questions: Am I an Internet Marketer? or Am I a spammer? If either answer is yes, you probably will not get out of the database. The same applies if you answer any of the following questions 'no': Do I run an exclusively (sic) confirmed Opt-In mailing list? (As defined by MAPS)

"If you got this far, and answered honestly, you stand a chance of getting out of the database.

"Second, answer the following: Am I in the neighborhood of a spammer? or Is my IP in a huge block listed? If either answer is 'yes,' then you will have to talk to your provider about getting rid of spammers.

"Third and finally, if you are really not a spammer or are truly reformed, de-listing is relatively easy. You pay $50 to a charity or trust approved by, and not connected with, SORBS for each spam received relating to the listing (This is known and referred (sic) to as the SORBS fine)."

Take a look at the first line: "Am I an Internet Marketer?" SORBS has taken it upon themselves to punish all Internet Marketers whether legitimate or not. This presumably means Cisco Systems, one of the sponsors of the organization, since last time I checked Cisco was marketing on the Internet. "Am I in the neighborhood of a spammer?" So even though you haven't done anything, if the server you rent space from has an IP address that SORBS has decided is an Internet marketer, you will be blacklisted as well, and you will remain blacklisted until you convince your ISP to remove all the IP addresses around you. Even then, you will need to go through a lengthy process of retesting and delisting.

And what if you should seek redress in the courts because your business has been damaged as a result of being unfairly listed in SORBS? From their site:

"See you in court, and don't expect to be removed... Oh, and expect to have your name and addresses published for the world to see (as is the Law in Australia provides).... No matter what the outcome."

In our case we locked down our system six months ago to keep it clear of any possible virus or Trojans that could send e-mail from our servers. The only thing our CTO can figure out is there is a bug in our brand name e-mail server software, because we've done everything right. And yet, we are being punished by a Kafkaesque organization that has no oversight but can prevent me from doing business.

This is just plain wrong.