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Troubleshooting a Postini block

Mail from one of my clients is being filtered at Postini and they asked me to look into this. Not that there is anything that can be done, of course. Even before they were bought out by Google, they were the poster child for a spam filtering company that believed they could do no wrong. It was difficult, if not impossible to get a straight answer from Postini about filtering, and the only statement they would ever make in regards to blocking problems was ‘have the recipient whitelist your mail.’
It is not just that Postini will not talk with people who are blocked, they will not talk to their own customers, either. Many years ago, I was dealing with another Postini issue for a customer. This customer was a Postini customer and was sending mail to themselves to test their new ESP. Postini was blocking the mail and the customer wanted me to find out why. After a couple days of digging I did actually find a really-o truly-o human at Postini. [1] He explained to me that a single line of text, followed by an unsubscribe link was spam, always spam and nothing but spam. He also explained that the only way for that mail to be let through, was for my customer to turn off his Postini filters.
Fast forward 4 years and I once again have a customer blocked by Postini.  Usually, I tell customers there is nothing to be done for Postini blocks and that no one can find any information about them, but this customer is insistent. This particular customer has extremely clean mailing practices, sends highly relevant and wanted mail and consistently gets 95+% inbox delivery. They are not spammers, not even a little bit. Because I know this customer is so clean, I poked around a little to find some information about them. They do use the ReturnPath Mailbox Monitor so I have a copy of the headers Postini is adding. I also discovered that Postini is now providing a decoder service for their headers at https://www.postini.com/support/header_analyzer.php
The response you get back from pasting in a header is not that useful if you have found any of the numerous explanations of Postini headers, but it does show some willing. Note, there is no way to ask a question or provide feedback to Postini on the listing.
There is not much that can be done to deal with Postini filtering your email. The best you can do is have your recipients whitelist you.
[1] I believe I am the only person on the delivery end that has ever been able to actually talk to a live human at Postini, and I think that is only because I called them from the same area code they are in and some engineer decided to return the message I left on their corporate voicemail.

16 comments

  1. James Hoddinott says

    I’ve spoken to a live human at Postini (might have been two), seen them in the flesh as well 🙂

  2. Dennis says

    I have meet and spoken with Postini CTO Scott Petrey. The conversation started off nice, but it didn’t tkae him very long to play I’m better than you card.

  3. laura says

    Oh, I’ve met folks from Postini, too, including Scott. I had lunch sitting at his table at some conference ages and ages ago, like pre-Word to the Wise.
    But there seems to be an organizational policy to not talk to anyone outside the company, both for customer support and for mailer support. I know a lot of people have tried to engage Postini, and they are utterly uninterested. Of course, now they’re a Google property and we know how responsive Google is.

  4. J.D. says

    So, this brings up an interesting question.
    Obviously they should be talking to their customers; nobody’s going to disagree on that one.
    And sure, it’s a best practice for filtering companies to respond politely to requests from filterees. But is it a requirement? Do senders have a right to demand explanations? Clearly many senders think they do — but why? What gives them that right? What does the filtering company gain from engaging in those conversations?

  5. Edward Lansink says

    “What does the filtering company gain from engaging in those conversations?”
    – PR and branding. Perhaps with the support of Google these are not things to worry about right now but for long-term success they need to pull up their socks imo.
    It’s important to valid emails to get through for the senders in this case, but lacking false positive protection can mean lost business in other instances. So why would anyone do business with Postini if they’ve built up a reputation for not caring about false positives (albeit from a sender’s point of view)?

  6. laura says

    The false positives are not all from a sender’s point of view. At least some of the people I know who have attempted to contact Postini about filtering problems are actually Postini customers. Postini is still unresponsive.

  7. laura says

    JD – I think your question is a really good one and I am working on an answer, which will probably end up being a full post in and of itself.

  8. Word to the Wise » Sender complaints about spamfiltering says

    […] on 01 May 2008 at 02:59 pm | Tagged as: Blocking, Blocklisting, ISP, Industry JD posed a question in my post about Postini and trying to sort out a customer getting marked as spam by their filtering mechanism […]

  9. Frank Muto says

    The customer who is getting blocked should be talking to the recipient of the message, why is it a Postini problem? A Postini client has full control of filtering options and settings for their use.
    As for Postini not caring is nonsense, because Postini does not control the filtering, but offers numerous options for the customer of Postini to control their email system. It’s their mail system, not the senders, nor Postini’s.
    As for Postini being unresponsive, I find that statement untrue. As a Postini reseller/distributor of 5 plus years, we have had nothing but an exceptional relationship with Postini.
    If anyone would like to discuss anything Postini, just ask.

  10. Jay Levitt says

    I would love to discuss anything and everything Postini, Frank.
    The problem is that “Postini client” has a very broad definition, BY definition. Which one of these Postini “clients” had full control of their filtering options?
    – My chiropractor
    – My real estate lawyer
    – My apartment complex’s leasing agent
    – My apartment complex’s maintenance engineer
    – My financial advisor
    – His assistant
    – His analyst
    If you said “none”, you are correct. Most of them don’t even know how to contact their own help desk – and, in case you didn’t know, there are levels of Postini scoring below which you will not even appear in the junk folder. You’re simply “disappeared”, except to the system administrator.
    If these folks do manage to get hold of their own help desk, all they’ll get told is to whitelist me – which treats the symptom and ignores the problem. I have had my personal e-mail, from a triply-signed mail server over which I have complete control, which has never sent spam, which has never even sent bulk mail of ANY kind,
    garner Postini scores as low as 2. TWO. Out of 100.
    Is that technically Postini’s problem? No. Is it in Postini’s enlightened economic self-interest to help their clients get the e-mail they want? I should think so, but apparently not. Does that make them irresponsible? I think so.
    The real problem is that Postini rates themselves using one and only one metric: Number of e-mails blocked. Not false positives, not delivery rates, not anything else at all. I cannot think of a more perverse incentive than that; if they could block 100% of all inbound mail, their numbers would go up!
    I too tried to get a human at Postini. I took three different back-channel routes to get there. They all landed at the same person – apparently the one guy who sends out “we’re not responsible no matter what” form letters to anyone who writes to Postini. He told me, and I can’t make this up:
    Postini was scoring my e-mails as “spammy” because Postini had previously scored my e-mails as spammy.
    Kafka would be proud.

  11. Andrei says

    Frank, how can a customer of Postini control what they are filtering, for eg. how can they control if the MTA that someone is using is good or bad, and assuming that if that someone use a specific MTA, is better or worse?
    ….as we had very strange problems with Postini when we have send email out through a commercial MTA, switching to an open source MTA, sending the same email (content, subject, from line, from email etc), form the same IP, the email was delivered into Inbox….otherwise the email simply “disappeared”, not even appear in the junk folder.
    The Postioni customer had no clue why the email has been blocked…and of course they didn’t know what to change in Postini.

  12. Postini Bug Results in False Spam Reports | MailChimp Blog says

    […] Laura Atkins has a lively discussion going on about Postini’s lack of response to deliverability/blocking questions. […]

  13. Jay Levitt says

    “If anyone would like to discuss anything Postini, just ask.”
    Frank? Frank?? Hey, where’d he go?

  14. Rob says

    I have an odd problem that I am trying to solve. I do business with a big tech company that is a Postini client. I can’t get any email from this company- the mail never gets to our mail server at all. We log all SMTP traffic and never see anything from Positini.
    I can send mail to this customer’s domain from my domain no problem, I just can’t get mail from them. At first glance it seems like a DNS issue, not a filtering issue, but who knows?

  15. S. Jennings says

    I get junk mail from various postini.com addresses. It is the worst kind of spam and trying to block all the various senders is impossible because the messages are from my other email addr to the same email addr. Adding to my blocked senders list does not seem to work. What can I do ?

  16. Delivery Metrics at Word to the Wise says

    […] because primus.ca is such a large portion of the Canadian market and they use Postini as a filter. Postini is a quite aggressive filter and takes no feedback from […]

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