Apple: MobileMe Filters Block Spam, Not Political Content

Apple: MobileMe Filters Block Spam, Not Political Content

Earlier today, we reported that Apple is invisibly filtering certain outgoing messages sent through their MobileMe email service.

Apple has now responded to that story, and while they admit that there is some level of filtering going on with MobileMe’s email service in order to protect users from spam, they are not censoring emails based upon political content.

“We want to make clear that Apple is not blocking MobileMe email due to political content,” Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller said in an official statement. “Occasionally, MobileMe’s automated spam filters may block legitimate user emails by mistake. If a customer feels that a legitimate email of theirs was blocked this way, we encourage them to get in touch and report the issue to MobileMe support.”

Asked if Apple had any intention of instituting error or bounce messages for MobileMe customers whose outgoing emails have been filtered in this manner, Apple said they had no additional comment at this time.

We never believed that Apple was actually censoring political content. The political content of the test email that repeatedly got our MobileMe email censored was coincidental; the real issue was that it looked like spam.

Apple seems to be confirming our belief that if MobileMe is guilty of anything, it’s in being overzealous with anti-spam protection and not alerting the end user when their mail has accidentally triggered Apple’s anti-spam conditions. It seems all this fuss and confusion could be solved with a simple bounce message. Maybe we’ll get this in iCloud?

  • Chris Brunner

    I would bet a US tech company, especially Apple, would never EVER consider censoring or blocking email of any kind. It just isn’t in their interest to do something bone-headed like that.

    -Chris
    http://friendsofmac.net

  • imajoebob

    What a load of crap!  They must have some really bizarre algorithms for determining spam.  What set off your filters, Trudy?  Was it those keywords like “manipulative, beatings, harassment, jail?”  I know these are big clues to me that some Nigerian Prince is trying to pull a fast one.  I’ll bet it was actually the compete lack of reference to anything financial or, uh, “erectile” that set off the filters.

    Let’s face it: they caught you.  I’ll bet this EXACT message will now go through unfettered for another week or so, then magically start disappearing agian.

    This is even more disappointing than the crappy way Apple is treating Final Cut Pro buyers.

  • imajoebob

    I’d bet my entire Google portfolio you’re right!

  • Andrew Mayne

    You said, “We never believed that Apple was actually censoring political content.”But in your previous post you wrote: “It appears the MobileMe server is filtering outgoing email for spam and objectionable political content, without informing users.”Notice the ‘and’ between ‘spam’ and ‘objectionable political content’. Maybe it’s not confusing to you, but it certainly read to me like you were saying they were filtering political content as well as spam.

  • brownlee

    That’s a valid point, and a mistake on our part. Later in the same post, we make it clear that we feel that this is over aggressive spam, but that wording is very confusing, and that is one hundred percent our mistake. We’re going to fix it now.

  • brownlee

    Yeah, fixed. We say in the very next paragraph at length that we don’t think this is political censorship, so I’m not sure how that wording got through. It was sloppy. Thanks for the fix.

  • oakdesk23

    I knew this was a non-story when I first read it and that Apple was not censoring emails. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people and news / blog sites immediately jumped to the conclusion that Apple had suddenly decided to start censoring email. I’m glad Apple responded quickly instead of keeping quiet as they so often do.

    Spammers will often use current events (or made-up current events) as the subject line to get people to read the emails. It is very likely a spam campaign went out recently that used many of the same words as these supposedly censored emails, Apple’s (overly) aggressive spam filters picked up on this and temporarily blocked emails with similar subject lines.

    I just hope Apple will be a less aggressive when filtering spam — at least by not filtering based on subject-line alone.

  • imajoebob

    But you never say WHY it might be due to “overaggressive” spam filters.  What in that message has even a whiff of spam about it?  Man, you folded faster than the Cubs in August.  Real journalistic integrity.

  • oriorda

    I can’t see the point you are making about a spam filter reject creating a bounce message. There are hundreds of thousands of spam messages active at any time, why would anyone consider providing the senders notice that their message has bounced? And if the idea is to inform the putative receiver a message to him/her has been filtered, why would he/she want to receive hundreds of messages to this effect?

    Invoking spam filters is a necessary part of using email today, regrettably. Users understand that occasionally the tool works against them, but that’s how it goes. Sometimes a letter in the real world gets lost too. If a message is so important it requires confirmation of receipt, there are processes that provide this, and of course, you can always ask the intended receiver to reply that the message was received.

    The bad guys in this are the spammers, not those in the middle trying to deal with the problems they cause.

  • oriorda

    You sound very disgruntled. 

    There is no foolproof system that will guarantee every spam message will be rejected whilst every legitimate message will get through. Occasionally mistakes are made. Despite the spam controls in place, have you never received a breast augmentation message? Or a sure fire way to make $5000 a days without leaving your home?

    The thing is the spammers are constantly trying new arrangements of words to trick current algorithms. It’s a battle of wits. Nobody gets it right all the time.

    And on the Final Cut Pro issue, I don’t think Apple is treating users in a crappy way. Where they have been less than stellar is explaining what they are trying to do. I agree the way it came across was that their new software basically cut old users off and left them stranded. As I undertand it the reality is old users can carry on just as they have and there’s no issue about Apple continuing to support them. So where exactly are they losing? The new software is based on a different architecture so it can provide capabilities simply impossible on the old architecture. If you need these new and pretty amazing capabilities, use the new software. if you don’t, use the old. If you’d like to use the old software AND have the facilities of the new, well, that isn’t possible. That’s the way it goes with technology. Sometimes you have to change. Isn’t this right? Disappointing of course that this time around you can’t have the best of both worlds.

  • joewaylo

    I think it mostly has to do with the fact @me people are going to use the system now that it’s free and potentially abuse it. There have been countless number of abusers signing up for free on services of hotmail, google, and now @me. They wind up using their service to send phishing messages.

    Apple is expressing this concern as well known fact that when they open the gates to all iDevice users, they will be making countless number of bots to sign up for (sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)accounts then forward discounted sex pharmacy drugs to other systems like GMail or Hotmail or @me users.

    As a Hotmail user, I cancelled mine for the very same reason. That and someone was disguising themselves as me somehow buying stuff.

  • kkalog

    (a) if someone was so stupid, ignorant or peculiarly motivated to write in a message that Greece, a European Union democratic country is acting as described in the mail, then the mail server did the right thing to reject such fallacy.

    (b) it would of course be far better not to have someone thinking that way in the first place and never write such a stupid, ignorant or peculiarly motivated message.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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