Want to receive email? Stop using Gmail.

Since many Web professionals use Gmail extensively I just wanted to make everyone aware of what I think is a serious problem. Apparently Gmail uses some sort of blacklist that bounces email sent from certain servers. It is likely being done to fight spam, and would be fine if it didn’t affect the innocent.

The problem is that it seems like this blacklisting can be quite random. There is also apparently no way for whoever maintains the blacklisted server to find out if and why it has been blacklisted. That obviously means there is nothing to do but wait and hope that the server eventually gets removed from the blacklist.

I found out about this since for the last several days I have been unable to send email to Gmail accounts from my 456bereastreet.com accounts or any other account on the same server.

I’ve been in contact with my hosting company about this, and they have obviously contacted Google to find out what’s going on. So far there has been no response, which leaves us guessing. Our current theory is that the server has been blacklisted because it bounces mail sent to non-existent addresses (99.9 % of which is spam) back to Gmail.

So just a heads-up if you use Gmail: if you contact someone and don’t get a reply, it could be because their mail server has been blacklisted. Use another email service if you want to make sure people can reply to your messages.

Update (2006-10-09): Ok, it looks like the culprit has been found: SpamAssassin. The mail server uses SpamAssassin to scan incoming and outgoing mail, and while doing so adds SpamAssassin headers. This apparently makes Gmail flag messages as spam and bounce them with a “message text rejected” note. So the assumption that my mail server had been blacklisted was wrong.

Update (2006-10-10): Well, what do you know. I can now send email to Gmail accounts again. Nothing has changed on my server, and there has been no response from Google. Obviously they did something though, so thanks for that :-).

Posted on October 9, 2006 in Productivity

Comments

  1. Ah, so you are the spam master! Suddenly all pieces fall into place… ;-)

  2. October 9, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    LOL! :D

  3. How odd, I love Gmail, and Google usually up on such things far quicker than other companies. I’ll have to stick around to see how this pans out.

  4. Hm, that sucks.. I really like Gmail’s service. I can’t I have experience with sending or receiving mail, but thanks for the heads-up :)

  5. “456” in domain is the problem, I think. Try contacting GMail Support Service.

  6. Sounds weird. What do the bounce messages say?

  7. October 9, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Riddle: Nope, the domain name is not causing this. No matter which domain the message is sent from it gets bounced by Gmail, so it’s got to be the server.

  8. Even though this is far less significant that important email, Gmail has apparently blacklisted MySpace also. One day I just stop getting my email notifications.

    I did find a workaround, I changed the MySpace email to a email on my domain (griffinwebworks.com) and then set up that email to forward to my gmail account.

    Gmail no longer blocks my myspace emails because it no longer comes from myspace. Though, this would only work if your personal website wasn’t blacklisted.

    Yea yea, go ahead and flame me for being a myspace user……I don’t care!

  9. October 9, 2006 by Bethany

    I don’t think myspace is blacklisted. I get myspace notifications and so do my other friends with gmail. However, my boyfriend has gmail and doesn’t get the notifications. He switched his email address on myspace to a yahoo address, and still didn’t get them.

  10. October 9, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Filip: The bounces contain this:

    SMTP module(domain gmail.com) reports:
    message text rejected by gmail-smtp-in.l.google.com:
    550 5.7.1 our Bulk Email Senders Guidelines.
    

    According to my host the server has not been used to send any bulk email, and I have no reason to doubt that.

  11. Hmmm… Do you use \n to create line feeds? I heard somewhere that GMail rejects e-mail that uses line feeds made with \n. Instead, try using crlf \r\n.

  12. Seems to me I have the opposite problem with gmail. I’ve never had a problem receiving mail from anyone. I have a problem with too much spam getting through, even through my filters, with the new kind of “nonsense” spam.

    I cannot fault Google for blacklisting a known spam server, or even a one they think is adding to spam. Possibly you should take a closer look at your host and what they allow - maybe they need stricter guidelines. Maybe they are not tough enough on spammers.

    In any event to say “don’t use Google if you want to get e-mail” seems kind of off base to me. I find gmail to be an excellent client.

  13. the blacklist problem is a problem for every one not just gmail. Online businesses have been getting backlisted and working with email providers for years. It always sucks but with every one so quick to blacklist IPs it going to happen more often then you like.

    Some email providers are easier to get a hold of then others. I hear T-Mobile has the worst service. Their contact email bounces.

  14. Fine with me. I get too much email as it is.

  15. October 9, 2006 by Niklas Blomdalen

    Comment from email server admin: The problem is not that we are blacklisted, well its a small problem. The problem is that gmail does not show any reasons for why we are blacklisted, maby some other server on the same subnet sends loads of spam.

    Our logs shows 90% mailer daemon returns for fake gmail spams rejected due to faulty adresses on your server.

    I mean if you have a serious blacklist you should (like ordb.org) display the blacklisted ips, why you are blacklisting them and what they can do to be removed. Google says we are sending spam mail, but who (wich ip?) really sent them, show me their headers, please? So we can stop the morons that are sending spam from the same subnet.

  16. Comments from (another) mail server admin, and someone who used to be very active in the anti-spam community.

    1) Only the most incompetant sysadmins will configure their server to silently discard mail from blacklisted hosts. More often than not, they will bounce the email, delay the email (also known as “greylisting”), or filter the email into a user’s spam filter.

    2) Sometimes email bounces as a result of being on a blacklist are not handled properly. Unfortunately, you cannot tell this unless you have access to your provider’s mail server logs, which they are not likely to give.

    And 3) with regards to this:

    and our current theory is that the server has been blacklisted because it bounces mail sent to non-existent addresses (99.9 % of which is spam).

    Getting email sent to non-existant addresses has nothing whatsoever to do with being blacklisted. The email sent to non-existant addresses happens when a spammer tries to guess email addresses at your domain, also known as a “dictionary attack”. This happens all the time. If your provider is confusing dictionary attacks with being on a blacklist, you might want to reconsider doing business with them.

    — Doug

  17. October 9, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Douglas:

    Getting email sent to non-existant addresses has nothing whatsoever to do with being blacklisted.

    Yep, I know. I think you misinterpreted me there. The theory is that the server has been blacklisted because of the large amounts of email that it bounces back to Gmail. Whether that is likely or not I have no idea.

  18. I’ve been having problems with Gmail for a while now, emails inbound and outbound being reported missing in action. Email addressed to or sent from email@gmail.com seems to be ok but all the domains I have setup in Gmail are a different story.

    Just today I got my friend to email me something whilst I was sat down beside him, lo and behold it never arrived, was addressed to my domain address.

  19. hm thats odd. I’m also having a problem with Gmail, but its quite the opposite. I get a lot of spam in my inbox, and I usually delete at once. But I checked the sender a few times and it was from well known servers (phishing or whatever they call it).

    perhaps someone is using your server’s name to send such emails.

  20. Yea, I have been becoming slightly disenchanted with gmail lately.

    What I have noticed is that Google Hosted (aka gmail for your domain) seems to be a lot less reliable than regular gmail, expecialy when it comes to blacklists. Emails that are sent to both my regular gmail address and to a google hosted address make it to the regular address, but get bounced form the hosted one.

    I have had a few other significant problems with google hosted. A mail box with ~150 messages claimed it was 99% full (out of 2 gigs and a 10 mb limit on the message size). Also some horid lag. Like it took a good 60 seconds inbetween clicking something (Spam, all mail, etc) and it appearing. This on multiple computers that could all log into regular gmail accounts just fine.

  21. I have had this problem too. I luckily have two mail servers that allows me to forward email from one through the other. On the receiving email side of things, you wouldn’t believe how much my colleagues laugh at me for using Windows Live Mail. I like the way you can configure a whitelist, and only the mail you want is delivered to your inbox. It does however mean a weekly check of the junk mail folder to see if something is useful and worth putting on the whitelist. I know Windows Live Mail also has a blacklist, but it requires many users to mark the sender as a spammer before it gets blacklisted.

  22. I just noticed that google removed the ‘report phishing’ option. Maybe they are already working on a solution to the problem you stated Roger.. I would be more suprised if google didn’t know about this!

  23. Nicolas:

    The ‘Report Phishing’ option is still under the ‘More Options’ link within your ‘conversation’.

    Mau.

  24. yeah I just saw it.. they removed the button though which was next to the ‘report spam’ … or am I just seeing things ??

  25. So is it time to move to Windows Live mail?

  26. Hmmm. Haven’t encountered that problem, although it appears that some other email providers mark all Gmail messages as spam. Or maybe my friends with Yahoo accounts are just ignoring me…

  27. Oh really? I never thought there’s a problem like that. Gmail has been working perfectly fine for me.

  28. From speaking to one of my hosting companies it can be down to other people on your server that are blacklisted.

    I was with 34sp.com and kepting getting emails I sent to AOL bounced and rejected. I contacted 34sp and they told me it’s because someone on my server must have been blacklisted and they put in a request to AOL to get it removed.

  29. Spam filters can be quite annoying. Using html format is taken as a significant hint that the mail may be spam

  30. ah, just read the update. I’ll ignore said post and hope it doesn’t happen to me. But you can never tell.

  31. October 10, 2006 by Martin

    You can always trust Google but not SpamAssassin to successfully send your emails :)

  32. I love Gmail and have had no issues, except I can’t synch directly with Outlook.

  33. I’ve been using gmail for ages and have never experienced the problems you’ve been seeing, but I can understand how they’re occurring. If email from a certain domain is flagged as spam by a number of users, even if it’s not, would Google block the domain as being a spam address? I’m thinking primarily of MySpace, who I could imagine as being a prime source of pointless (but not necessarily spam) emails.

  34. Related is that I cannot send any emails using my GMail account to my local municipal government because THEY have blacklisted GMail.

  35. October 11, 2006 by Miriam

    But why is the email server bouncing emails sent to nonexistant addresses? This simply adds to the spam.

    As far as I have heard it doesn’t hurt the spammer, just the poor people whose email address has been hijacked, and obviously the server their email is served on.

    Why bounce them? Why not ditch them? Maybe Google is right to penalise mailservers that add to the spam problem by bouncing spam around. Especially if they are on the receiving end.

  36. October 11, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Miriam:

    But why is the email server bouncing emails sent to nonexistant addresses?

    Because if it did not bounce them, people who mistakenly send a message to a nonexistent address would never find out about it.

  37. I was wondering about this problem as well before. I’ve sent my e-mail to my friend and he never send me back a reply. So i tried use hotmail to send him an e-mail again, but still i havent get any reply from him.

  38. It’s actually better to “blackhole” non-existant addresses rather than bounce them for two reasons. 1 - it reduces network traffic load since no reply is sent and 2 - it precludes a spammer using the bounce responses to prune down a speculative address list to those which actually go through since there is no way to tell whether a mail has been received and ignored or blackholed.

    I have had people come to me with the flip side of the blacklist coin with Gmail - not receiving mail from GMail accounts because some of Google’s mail servers are on the blacklists. This of course was only a matter of time ala Hotmail.

    Frankly I don’t use Gmail for anything but signups etc. that I need a non-important e-mail address for. I’d would never trust my personal or business mail contents to Google, or any other provider likely to retain perpetual archives and mine the information therein.

  39. I have a question about Gmail: how can i get an adress gmail, it’s always the same, my password or login are false after my inscription.

  40. October 24, 2006 by CamiloSan

    dude, …. setup your domain properly and you wont have a single problem. Setup your MX records, outbound/Inbound SMTP traffic, SPF record, and DomainKeys if your server supports it. Your original post seems like you’re griping.

    Complaint posts with no empirical data to support them are … pointless.

    If you don’t know how to setup your mail server - hire someone. There’s many a valid professional able to ensure proper delivery.

  41. October 24, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    CamiloSan: If you read my post you’ll see that I don’t run my own mail server. And yes, I was griping. You have a problem with that? Don’t read it. Thanks.

  42. I was appalled when I saw this blog title. I love gmail.

  43. November 3, 2006 by londonist

    Camilosan:

    I had the same issue with Gmail servers this week and as a “professional” who set my MX/SPF/DNS records up just fine, I know it’s not my server.

    Complaint posts are not pointless - are you suggesting that everytime anyone complains about something, they should know exactly what’s causing the issue for their complaint to be valid?

    Looks like it’s either intermittant, because it’s working again…

  44. November 18, 2006 by David Bailey

    I’ve been having similar problems using Gmail through POP… My wife gets most of her email, but sometimes people say, “but I sent that to you…!” She never got it.

    I’ve sent things to 3 friends, and one doesn’t receive. Very random and very odd. No rhyme or reason…

    Cheers.

  45. Same problem here. I own several domains and when I send an email to one of my email aliases gmail does not receive it. If I change the location of the forward to my pop3 server I get all my messages. It seems to be a more prevalent problem and it is getting worse. I am now seeing this problem with Hotmail as well.

    I am also getting disappointed with Google/Gmail they are not responding with anything that is relevant.

    This is a real issue that needs to be dealt with as I rely on Gmail for all my inbound and outbound email now. I do not want to have to use my old mail server.

    If they do not get this resolved within a few weeks I am going to dump my Google stock and put the money into AOL… lol

    CB

  46. I set up an address at my website domain to forward to gmail and initially it worked. I have now realised that messages sent to the domain address never reach my gmail account. Most annoyingly the messages are not bounced so the sender doesn’t know that it hasn’t been delivered. I have no idea how many messages to me may have been lost. There doesn’t appear to be any way for me to solve this problem? anyone know how to do this? how do I speak to a human being at google or inform them of my problem? I am quite angry - if I had known about this I would never have started using gmail but changing to another account after nearly two years will mean losing loads of contacts and saved threads as well as having to notify huge numbers of people of my new address. If the postman was doing this with regular mail he would be going to prison. what the hell do google think they are doing?

    Phil

  47. February 8, 2007 by Andrew

    I am having the same problem, started 5 days ago. I am unable to send email to my gmail account from my webhost’s server. This is really annoying because all the php scripts on that server are set up to email reports etc to my gmail account. There is no bounce, no suggestion of where these emails go, they do not appear in my spam folder in gmail.

    I am at a total loss and this is the only page I could find on the internet that is anywhere near relavent. My web host says it’s not their problem, and that google must have blocked the emails, but refused to do any more. I think this is a copout because I suspect someone else using that server has been spamming google and now I am paying the price.

    So damn frustrating!! Now considering moving all of my email away from gmail, which is a major pain.

  48. February 27, 2007 by Kazim Kanat

    Here is our problem. My server can send gmail, no problem. But when a gmail recipient replies, it never comes my server. If he/she creates new email, it comes through my server. I am having problems with gmail replies.

    How strange it is.

  49. March 8, 2007 by Simon Burgess

    Does anyone have any experience with missing mail from Gmail? I’ve just found that my inbox is now short of all mail from 14 February last year!

    I have now way of getting back and now way seemingly to tell google about my predicament. Any help out there?

  50. May 19, 2007 by John Hunt

    I have too many usernames matched with password that I had a list that is now missing. I have tried to get in and can’t. I don’t know what I have recieved and would just like to get out all together as you have too many roadblocks.I have tried to use secondary info to get back in and go in circles. Just cancell it!! Carv another notch in your too old and dumb to use belt.

  51. June 20, 2007 by Barbara

    i am receiving spam emails on my gmail account using my gmail address, which happends to be my real name. How do I stop that? Any advice?

    Barbara

  52. July 7, 2007 by T. Hewayom

    As of June 2007, my gmail account has stopped receiving almost ALL emails except for those from one, just one, of my own accounts elsewhere. There has been NO response to my repeated requests for an explanation or fix.

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