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Why do ISPs do that?

One of the most common things I hear is “but why does the ISP do it that way?” The generic answer for that question is: because it works for them and meets their needs. Anyone designing a mail system has to implement some sort of spam filtering and will have to accept the potential for lost mail. Even the those recipients who runs no software filtering may lose mail. Their spamfilter is the delete key and sometimes they’ll delete a real mail.

Every mailserver admin, whether managing a MTA for a corporation, an ISP or themselves inevitably looks at the question of false positives and false negatives. Some are more sensitive to false negatives and would rather block real mail than have to wade through a mailbox full of spam. Others are more sensitive to false positives and would rather deal with unfiltered spam than risk losing mail.

At the ISPs, many of these decisions aren’t made by one person, but the decisions are driven by the business philosophy, requirements and technology. The different consumer ISPs have different philosophies and these show in their spamfiltering.

Gmail, for instance, has a lot of faith in their ability to sort, classify and rank text. This is, after all, what Google does. Therefore, they accept most of the email delivered to Gmail users and then sort after the fact. This fits their technology, their available resources and their business philosophy. They leave as much filtering at the enduser level as they can.

Yahoo, on the other hand, chooses to filter mail at the MTA. While their spamfoldering algorithms are good, they don’t want to waste CPU and filtering effort on mail that they think may be spam. So, they choose to block heavily at the edge, going so far as to rate limit senders that they don’t know about the mail. Endusers are protected from malicious mail and senders have the ability to retry mail until it is accepted.

The same types of entries could be written about Hotmail or AOL. They could even be written about the various spam filter vendors and blocklists. Every company has their own way of doing things and their way reflects their underlying business philosophy.

1 comment

  1. The Proverbial Barry says

    yes this is very true

    and also, no amount of lobbying or whining will change it

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