Autoresponder Evils?

Rick Chadderdon mailscanner at
Wed Sep 13 18:19:00 IST 2006

Jethro R Binks wrote:

> But the problem isn't autoresponders themselves.

No, it's the people who insist on using them.


I acknowledge that the *root* problem is the desire to do a particular
thing with a system that was not designed to do so either intelligently
or securely in a world with spam.  This does not mean that one should
rush in with a flawed solution when other people are going to be
required to deal with the consequences of said solution.

>> I find that most people who defend autoresponders are in a way akin
>> to the spam pundits who say, "Just hit delete!"
> Ridiculous analogy.

No, it's not. 

1.  You have something you want to do.  This thing benefits you.   (Send
UCE.  Send Autoresponses.)
2.  The thing you want to do affects others without their consent. 
(Processing unwanted mail, regardless of content.)
3.  Your response when asked to stop or find a better solution is,
basically, "No.  I (and others) need to do this.  You're running a mail
server.  *You* solve it, or just deal with it, but I won't stop."  (Same
response I hear from spammers.)

Yes, matters of scale, intent and the direct impact of the two may
differ.  I accept that you honestly believe that an attempt to minimize
the amount of garbage an automated reply system spews makes it okay when
it *does* make a mistake.  I deal with a *lot* more spam than I do
misfiring autoresponders.  None of that makes the behavior of even a
sensibly configured autoresponder acceptable when it flings a few
thousand messages at an innocent mail server.

Look, I understand that no system is ever going to be perfect, but a
system that automatically generates email should do better than these
do.  Even the sensible ones.  I currently manage email for about 30
active domains and 60 or so that get almost no use.  That makes my
current setup tiny.  I reject between 12000 and 30000 messages at the
MTA level every day.  (With not a single user complaint to date.  Yay!) 
MailScanner and SA do a wonderful job with the rest.  Out of the
unwanted mail that gets through untagged on any given day, about 80%
will be image spam, 10% will be other spam and the remaining 10% will be
split among challenge-response messages, bogus virus/spam
bounces/warnings and autoresponders.  It is *not* a serious problem.  My
issue is philosophical, not immensely practical.

That said, I have been hammered by autoresponders in the past, even
sensibly configured ones.  Risk of having a mail server on the net? 
Yes.  So is spam, as you said.  But after hammering someone's mail
server, rather than sitting back smugly satisfied that their setup is
"sensible" one should make an effort to fix the problem.  Or at
least...  apologize?  Failure to do so is rude.  And the number of
people I've seen whining about being reported to an RBL for doing
"nothing wrong" just reminds me of how many people really are rude. 
(John Rudd:  I'm not including you - I don't know your specifics.  I
don't use SpamCop, either, although it's because people such as yourself
have made me fear false-positive user complaints.  I already have great
results from the set I use, which includes TrendMicro.)

>> If asked, "What else am I supposed to do to solve this problem?"
>> all I can say is, "Don't make your problem mine."
> That's a piss-poor response though.

Yeah, it probably is.  I'd be a lot more popular - and a lot more
wealthy - if I could solve the problem of automatically identifying
unwanted mail.  But do you think it's appropriate to spread your
problems to others without their consent?  To say that if I don't have
an answer to your needs that I should "just deal?"  I find that rude. 

It's my responsibility to solve my own problems.  Absolutely.  But if
those problems are caused by the actions of another, I have the right to
at least ask them to *stop it*.  And if I should ban (or cause to be
banned) a mail server that has flooded mine, the owner of that server
should "just deal."  Right?

Users want this - you're right about that.  Even when it's explained to
them what problems there can be with autoresponders, they still want
them.  So it's our job to figure out how to create one that works
without creating problems for anyone.  Or it's our job to figure out a
better way to do the same thing.  The problem is not that a better
solution can't be developed. The problem is that people don't want a
different solution.

> I happily grant you leave to bitch about crap autoresponder
> mechanisms if it makes you happy, and there are very many to bitch
> about.  But do not tar them all with the same brush, and do not make
> the mistake of saying that autoresponders are the problem when they
> are not.

So...  Are the users the problem?  The administrators who can't convince
the users to try different solutions?  The developers who can't create a
magically perfect autoresponder?

I'm not using the same brush, anyway.  I have a "hideously awful, should
be destroyed immediately" brush and a "this sucks, but probably isn't
worth doing anything about" brush.  There are no perfect autoresponders,
and there will not be until the issue of authoritatively identifying the
legitimacy of any given email is solved.

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