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Nameless and faceless

Ken Magill wrote about Spamhaus last week. In the article he commented about the volunteers.

By most accounts, the folks responsible for maintaining Spamhaus’s blacklists can be a very annoying group to deal with—mainly because they’re faceless and unforgiving.

Today, Ken published a response from Steve Linford, the head of Spamhaus. The response is well worth a read and I encourage you to head over to Ken’s site to read the whole thing.
I didn’t comment last week, mostly because I negatively reacted to the “faceless and unforgiving” comment.
I’ve had lots of interactions with Spamhaus volunteers over the years. And, yeah, I have had the occasional interaction that was frustrating on all sides. I was annoyed, my clients were annoyed and Spamhaus was annoyed. But these experiences are memorable because they’re so rare. Most of the time, the Spamhaus rep is polite and professional.
In my experience, Spamhaus is quite forgiving of honest mistakes. There was one memorable incident a few years ago where I got very descriptive email, including screenshots, from the CEO of one of my clients. That client had a spammer get on their network and trigger a SBL listing. One of the founders went in and disconnected the customer. But, the customer had called in and gotten their new abuse desk person on the phone and managed to get turned back on. Spamhaus was very understanding and the listing was taken down very promptly.
There are two situations where Spamhaus reps have “acted unforgiving.”

  1. When the resolution proposed by the listee won’t do anything to stop unsolicited mail.
  2. When there is a history of spam and broken agreements and repeat behaviour from that particular sender.

I think in both of these situations “unforgiving” is not unreasonable. Spamhaus’ goal is to protect their customer networks from spam. Delisting an entity when their proposed fix won’t actually fix whatever caused the listing in the first place makes no sense. Yes, it’s frustrating to the listee, but in this case Spamhaus’ role is to be the gatekeeper. Likewise, I think volunteers are smart to be cautious when dealing with someone who has repeatedly broken delisting agreements.
As for faceless, well, Ken has it semi-right. Spamhaus volunteers are regulars at MAAWG and I consider some of them friends. Here’s the thing, though, I work for my clients through the sbl-removals@ address, and there are actually listings where I couldn’t tell you which volunteer I was dealing with. It doesn’t really matter, though, they are SR-whatever and acting as a representative of Spamhaus.
The service Spamhaus provides is unique and important. Not only are their lists trusted by large ISPs, but their data is also trusted by law enforcement throughout the world. Without the work done by Spamhaus, a lot of us would have a lot more spam in our inboxes. I know sometimes they block IPs at the most inconvenient times: some delivery friends swear that Spamhaus reps know their vacation schedule.
Overall, though, the Internet is better for having the “nameless and faceless” Spamhaus volunteers than it would be otherwise.

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