Apple Spam Filter Destroying Legitimate EmailWritten by Malcolm James on March 6, 2013
Apple Corp. would have people believe that it invented the computer mouse (it didn’t), the GUI (it didn’t), and running water (okay, we made that one up). The company has even managed to convince some patent trial juries that it invented the motion of swiping one’s finger from left to right, although ancient Mesopotamian sages (and some modern jurists) might disagree. Late demigod and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying “good artists copy. Great artists steal”, and, ironically, he was quoting someone else (Picasso). The ever-litigious company keeps its lawyers rich and never lacking work, and if it had its way, the company would probably sue God for making apples.
Apple’s arrogance is aplenty, and its tactics have left some of us – especially those who make a living in the technology world – scratching our heads at some of its choices. Recently, the company famously dumped arch-rival Google in iOS 6, when it canned the YouTube and Google Maps apps. A curious choice, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with either of those apps, except that they weren’t made by Apple. So when Apple makes an app, you want it to work, right? If no one else is good enough to make apps for their hardware, then you have to rely on the company that made the hardware. That seems to be Apple’s modus operandi.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the oft-misquoted phrase ‘Jack of all trades’, it’s supposed to be followed by ‘and master of none’. And in Apple’s latest bout of softwarus interruptus, the company seems to confirm the latter with prejudice. Apple’s iCloud email has been behaving very badly, several media outlets are reporting, and even more distressing, the problem has been known since at least November, and Apple doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it.
In an article last November from InfoWorld, the discovery of iCloud’s behavior was a bit of a mystery, but the issue, MacWorld reports, is no longer in question. iCloud mail has been silently blocking emails as spam.
It appears, TUAW reports, “that iCloud was unable, or unwilling, to deliver messages with a PDF attachment containing the words ‘barely legal teen’”.
And although that sounds about right at face value, the violation here is that Apple’s mail app is treating the mails as if they never existed.
“Rather than move the flagged messages to a spam folder as most services do, in some cases iCloud email simply erases all existence of them.”
In fact, even zipped PDFs containing the objectionable phrase are blocked, relegated to the ether as if they never existed.
Spam filters aren’t perfect, because spammers throw the kitchen sink at them in the hopes of circumventing heuristics. That’s why spam filters are supposed to have spam folders, and anyone who uses email should know that it’s good practice to review the spam folder once in awhile, to ensure that legitimate emails didn’t get flagged as spam. Apple’s response to the issue, according to TUAW, was to have befuddled users contact AppleCare, but as MacWorld authors Dan Moren and Lex Friedman point out, how can you complain about an email you never received and never knew you were supposed to receive?
Perhaps it’s Apple’s tragic flaw – its hubris – that it tries to be everything to everybody and ends up falling short. The hardware is actually quite good, even with the aforementioned issues, but if you’re going to get rid of a kickass app like Google Maps, then you’d better put something in its place that is at least as good, and Apple clearly didn’t do that. In fact, the company has made a habit of arbitrarily deciding what users need without actually consulting users. Mr. Jobs was notorious and quite vocal about treating users like they were a necessary evil to his endgame.
And while the company does make some nifty devices, its recent stock woes shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering Apple’s approach to everything Apple. The OS formerly known as virus-free has had its share of issues over the past few years, and the company’s reticence over combustible iPods and the iPhone death grip doesn’t seem to flap users that crave devices whose software is designed around the lowest common denominator. This latest fiasco seems to drive the point home that demagoguery, no matter how cool the device feels in the palm of your hand, just isn’t cool.