Australia is a big country, and all kinds of things can go wrong.
My problem, on the contrary, is that my boomerangs keep coming back. I can hear fellow Aussies saying: "That's the whole idea, you silly bugger!" Maybe, but the boomerangs I'm talking about are my emails, sent from France to Australia. Often, some of my emails get bounced by the Antipodes for mysterious reasons (or rather, for no apparent reason whatsoever), and they're sent all the way back here to Gamone, unread by the Australians for whom they were intended.
I first ran into this problem back in 2006, when I was making plans for a visit to Australia. Suddenly, I was alarmed to discover that my emails to my aunt Nancy in Sydney were being rejected by her ISP [Internet service provider] called Big Pond. Fortunately, I had other email contacts with Australia, not to mention the telephone. So, this curious behavior of my aunt's email account didn't cause any serious problems.
Towards the end of that year, however this communication obstacle still existed, which meant that I could no longer send emails at all to my aunt. At my end of the line, I couldn't do anything to correct this anomaly. Big Pond, out in Australia, persisted in believing that I was a spammer, intent upon annoying innocent Aussies such as my aunt. Naturally, I suggested to my aunt that she should simply explain to Big Pond that her nephew in France was not a delinquent spammer. Or, if this failed, she should simply change ISPs. Unfortunately, from a problem-solving viewpoint, giving that sort of advice to my aunt was no more effective than reciting prayers to the Great Internet God.
In those circumstances, I decided to create this blog, which would enable the news from Gamone to get through to my Australian relatives impeccably, in rain, hail or snow. Meanwhile, I discovered that the email account of my sister Susan often behaved in rejection mode.
Today, almost four years later, the problem still exists. If anything, it has worsened. Over the last few days, emails to my cousin Mitchell and my schoolmate Ron have bounced, on totally different servers. I'm starting to think that this rejection of French email by Australian servers is becoming viral…
The funny thing is that this situation doesn't appear to worry people unduly in Australia. My sister Anne informed our friend Ron that the problem existed, but she prefaced my forwarded email with a rhetorical question: Conspiracy theory...? As for Ron, he assured us that it was probably just a matter of his mail box overflowing.
The writing however is clearly on the wall, even if Aussies don't understand it. Terse messages attached to my various emails that have been bounced by Australian ISPs always contain a three-letter acronym: RBL. This is short for Realtime Blackhole List: a list of IP addresses whose owners supposedly fail to stop the proliferation of spam. Really, the term "blackhole" is most appropriate and eloquent, although "Bermuda Triangle" would have been just as good.
Whenever the letters RBL are associated with the refusal to deliver an email, there's no point in talking about William's conspiracy theory, or overflowing mailboxes. These letters merely mean that a brain-damaged Aussie ISP has asked a big faceless firm (either Japanese or American in the cases I've examined) to filter out spammers. And for those firms—Do their employees understand French, enabling them to recognize spam?—almost everything that comes out of France seems to be classified as spam… even when it's sent by the state-owned telecom organization, Orange.
Part of the "blackhole" problem is that Australians are not particularly inclined to complain spontaneously about emails that they haven't received! They imagine that it's my problem, not theirs. (On the other hand, they would certainly be annoyed if their own emails failed to reach me in France… which has surely never been the case.) Besides, when Anne informs Mitchell or Ron that this "blackhole" problem has arisen, she also forwards them a copy of my bounced email. Consequently, it's as if there had never been any problem! So, they're not particularly motivated to do anything at their end of the line… especially if they're influenced by Anne's suggestion that this might be a simple case of paranoia, or by the theme of an overflowing mailbox.
OK, let me now point out a rather obvious way in which this idiotic "blackhole" situation could be causing enormous damage to Australia. First, read the following excellent article, entitled Carrying the torch, concerning the dearth of expected touristic business in the wake of the Olympic Games:
You can probably guess where I'm heading. Over the last four years, my main email contacts in Australia have concerned about ten individuals. And, of them, four have been corrupted by the "blackhole" thing. I remember thinking, at the time of the rugby world cup in France: What would happen if a French tour operator was unable to warn an Australian customer that there were modifications to their booking? Today, it's a fact that countless people plan their vacations through the Internet. Imagine potential French tourists who start sending emails to Australia in the hope of obtaining touristic information, only to find that their requests bounce because of the "blackhole" bug. At a rough guess, I would say that, over the last few years, tens of thousands of touristic requests emailed from France to Australia have probably disappeared forever in this absurd manner. So, it's time that Australians got their act together and made sure that this idiotic "blackhole" obstacle is eradicated. But this probably won't happen. After all, it's Down Under...
BREAKING NEWS: Following my complaint to Trend Micro for "blackholing" an email I sent to my friend Ron in Australia a few days ago [see my comment addressed to Bruce], I received a reply from a member of their Spam Investigations Team. Concerning my current IP, this lady says:
[…] we have seen recent spam activity from it. The first time we saw spam in this IP was in May 2007.
In May 2007, my ISP was Free. I changed to my present ISP, Orange, over a year ago. The Trend Micro reply continues:
Please investigate your network for spamming activity and then fix the issues. When you have done this, contact us again and provide the following information:
1. What caused the problem that allowed spam to come from this machine/server?
2. What did you do to fix the problem?
3. What are you doing to prevent it from happening again?
We need this information to make sure that the problem has been resolved prior to removing the IP.
It's a delightful example of a question of the variety: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" In any case, I don't intend to pursue this ridiculous and time-wasting subject. It's high time for Aussie ISPs and their clients to assume their responsibilities. These ISPs should explain to their clients, first and foremost, why they've relegated the task of spam detection and filtering to a foreign firm based in Tokyo. Is this task beyond the technical expertise of Australian engineers?