Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Spam filtering

This article's a couple of weeks old now, but with a headline like this I suppose it'll never get too old: "Computer cock-up finds erection hard to handle"; yeah, leave it to the Guardian. Anyway, the issue is that email to a town council's planning department was getting tossed as spam because it contained the word "erection" — and that word is a common word in planning-department discussions, used there in its nonsexual context.

OK, I have to say that one (or more) of the following things is going on here:

  • The town is using really crappy antispam software.
  • The antispam software they're using is severely misconfigured.
  • Whoever analyzed the problem is egregiously oversimplifying.
  • The reporter thought this sounded cute and doesn't care that it's not true.

No reasonable, modern antispam software will toss a message solely because of one, single word. Unless, of course, it's configured to, and such configuration would certainly be a mistake in the case of that word for that department.

A spokesman for Rochdale council said: "The software that protects the council's email system from spam and other offensive material is not designed by the council and we do not control which words are blocked."
Maybe. In any case, the council needs to get better software or a better computer staff... and the Guardian needs to find a reporter who'd rather write a good report than a too-cutesy, suggestive headline.

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