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[liberationtech] Fwd: Avaaz in "grave danger" due to GMail spam filters

Dave Karpf davekarpf at
Wed Sep 4 15:19:35 PDT 2013

This is very interesting.

One distinction that I think is worth pondering though: it seems like the
standard of "serious about email" is in conflict with the goal of
"frequently communicating with 20M supporters."

If Avaaz has to choose between the former and the latter, I imagine they'd
choose the latter.  I know I would.  So that means working around the
limitations of freemail.


On Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 5:40 PM, Rich Kulawiec <rsk at> wrote:

> On Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 12:27:24PM -0400, Matt Holland wrote:
> > Rich: We actually do run our email lists in-house, sent from our own
> MTA's,
> > with appropriate SPF records, DKIM signature, list-precedence headers,
> etc.
> > etc. Our message to members was focused on getting into a particular
> "tab"
> > at Gmail though; I think if we were having problems with those basic
> > list-management issues we'd be more likely to see our messages being
> marked
> > spam or just dropped outright.
> First, it's good that you're listening in here.
> Second, Gmail is a poorly-run email service.  That's somewhat surprising
> to me, actually: I expect much better out of them.  But it really is
> quite mediocre, and I therefore recommend against it for anyone who's
> actually serious about email.  (Then again, it's not the *worst* Google
> service: their horrible mangling of Usenet into "Google Groups", a disaster
> from its inception to the present, holds that honor.)
> Third, to generalize that comment: it's not worth worrying about delivery
> to Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail/AOL.  They're either (a) crap or (b) well on their
> way to being crap.  I can't fix this.  You can't fix this.  I'm pretty
> sure they can't fix it or just plain don't want to fix it.  So the solution
> to this isn't to turn yourselves inside-out trying to jump through Gmail's
> hoops or Yahoo's hoops so that they'll accept your mail: the solution is
> to tell everyone that freemail is worth what they're paying for it.
> (Arguably, given recent events: it's worth less.)  To borrow from the
> previous paragraph, anyone who is serious about email should get
> a real email account.  Those four providers have spent the last decade [1]
> proving that they can't furnish one.
> Fourth, I've taken the time to evaluate -- at a cursory level -- your
> mailing list operation.  Here are my findings and recommendations.
> I'm sure they're incomplete (hence "cursory").
> 1. SPF is snake-oil, as should have been obvious to everywhere when
> it was introduced with this grandiose and ludicrous claim:
>         "Spam as a technical problem is solved by SPF."
> So: don't bother.
> (DKIM?  DKIM shows some *potential*.  I am as yet unconvinced of its
> anti-spam value, since my spamtraps receive spam all day every day that
> passes DKIM validation.  Some say that DKIM has anti-forgery value, but
> (a) the Internet clearly does not consider email forgery an important
> problem and (b) even if it did, the problem is currently insoluble even
> if DKIM is globally deployed and works perfectly.)
> 2. You're using Google to handle your incoming email.  Not a good choice:
> see comments above.
> 3. You have working "postmaster" and "abuse" addresses that are
> answered in a timely manner by a real live human being.  Excellent.
> You're thus in compliance with the applicable portions of
> RFC 5321 and RFC 2142, and you're doing what every single responsible,
> ethical, and competent operation on this planet should do.
> 4. You're not in compliance with section 6 of RFC 2142 because
> your mailing list does not support a -request address.  This is not
> only mandatory, but it's been a best practice for 30-ish years.
> Thus *this* mailing list supports:
>         liberationtech-request at
> because it darn well should.
> 5. You also don't appear to be in compliance with the long-standing
> convention and best practice of -owner, which is analogous to -request,
> except that (a) -request may or may not be a person but (b) -owner
> is always a person.  Thus the -owner address is the one to use when
> the automation behind -request isn't behaving: it provides a way
> for subscribers and non-subscribers alike to initiate a conversation
> with the person(s) operating any particular list.
> 6. You're not in compliance with RFC 2919 or RFC 2369.  Again,
> using *this* list as an example, these headers are present:
>         List-Id: liberationtech <>
>         List-Unsubscribe: <
>>, <mailto:
> liberationtech-request at>
>         List-Archive: <
>         List-Post: <mailto:liberationtech at>
>         List-Help: <mailto:liberationtech-request at
> ?subject=help>
>         List-Subscribe: <
>>, <mailto:
> liberationtech-request at>
> 7. List messages are sent from an unreplyable address.  That's not
> only an extremely bad idea, it's very rude.  It is the email equivalent
> of sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "LA LA LA LA I can't
> hear you" when the entire rest of the Internet is trying to tell you
> that you've got a problem or are causing a problem.  All email should
> always be sent from a replyable address, period.
> 8. You do not appear to use web bugs in your mailing list messages.
> A wise choice: web bugs are malware, they're invasive and abusive,
> and they actively degrade the security of recipients...which is
> a pretty crappy way to treat one's audience.
> 9. Your mailing list traffic does not wrap lines properly -- yet
> doing so is a basic email courtesy.  You do, however, use paragraph
> breaks in a sensible manner, which helps readability.
> 10. And the kicker: you are not using COI (confirmed opt-in, or
> closed-loop opt-in, take your pick) on your mailing list,
> therefore you are spamming.  Period, full stop, this is not open
> for debate or question.
> See, for example (and this doesn't cover the whole thing, but...)
> The problem you now face is that because you haven't been doing COI
> since Day One your list is now full of crap.  Oh, sure, there are some
> legitimate subscribers on it, but there are also typos (yes, people
> typo their own addresses all day every day, this is common knowledge),
> there are spamtraps, there are dead addresses, there are repurposed
> I said, your list is now full of crap.  And every time you
> send out a message to that list full of crap, you're stacking evidence
> on the pile that says "Avaaz is spamming".
> The fix for *most* of this is simple and easy.  First, get off Google
> and host your own email.  Any combination of (Linux/BSD) with (sendmail,
> postfix, exim, courier) will do.  Second, install Mailman, which will
> solve several of the above problems in its stock/default configuration.
> Third, dump SPF.  Keep DKIM if you want, just don't expect it to do
> much good.
> Then comes the hard part.  If you want to stop spamming, you're going
> to have to run your list through a COI pass, which will take time
> and effort.  There is no evading this, no easy way around it, no trick:
> either you do it or you don't.  If you do, then you'll be able to produce
> proof-on-demand of the verified provenance of every subscriber -- which
> is something that is part of baseline ethical and competent mailing
> list operational practice.  If you don't, then you will keep spamming,
> you will keep getting (correctly) blocked/blacklisted, and your problems
> will continue to get worse.
> (The latter is precisely what has happened to others who have faced this
> decision and chosen...poorly.)
> Bottom line: you've made a rather large mistake.  You now have the
> opportunity to fix it.
> ---rsk
> [1] I would be remiss if I allowed that blanket statement to cover AOL
> in toto.  AOL made massive improvements during Carl Hutzler's tenure.
> He and his coworkers fixed a lot that was broken, and were well on their
> way to moving AOL from the bottom of the pile to (perhaps) the top.
> Their work was much appreciated by those of us *outside* AOL who
> enjoyed the tremendous reduction in AOL-sourced abuse.  AOL rewarded
> this hard-working, competent, diligent team by dismissing them a
> couple of years ago and, predictably, the slide downward started
> almost immediately.  AOL has not yet quite reached the bottom of
> the barrel (currently occupied by Yahoo and Hotmail) but I think
> in another year or two its journey will be complete.
> --
> Liberationtech is a public list whose archives are searchable on Google.
> Violations of list guidelines will get you moderated:
> Unsubscribe, change to digest, or change password by emailing moderator at
> companys at

Dave Karpf, PhD

Assistant Professor
George Washington University
School of Media and Public Affairs
davekarpf at

Author of *The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American
Political Advocacy<>
 *(Oxford University Press)
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