Macworld UK: Apple's iCloud email service deletes all emails that contain the phrase "barely legal teen" it was revealed today. (Via D.S. in BB G+)

42 Responses to “Macworld UK: Apple censoring iCloud emails and attachments”

  1. otterhead says:

    I’ve been suspecting that they’re auto-deleting a lot more than that lately. Over the past month, I’ve run into many issues with friends and clients repeatedly emailing me at my iCloud account and the mail simply not arriving.

    • Dan Hibiki says:

      Well they’re probably blocking any e-mail address that might seem like a sex site.

      Did their e-mail address have any derivatives of “Hot Male”?

      • otterhead says:

        I plead the 5th.

        (truthfully… no. Many of the vanished emails were from my bank, for example. Not in my spam folders, not in junk mail. Just… gone.)

  2. Joshua Ochs says:

    I think I’ve heard of this before – it’s called a spam filter and false positives.

    • TheOtherBen says:

      Apparently it’s a strong enough spam filter to search for the term inside of encrypted ZIP’d PDF attachments.  This doesn’t seem to be a common vector of spam, in my experience.

      • Joshua Ochs says:

        But it is a common vector for malware, and most anti-spam systems also check for malware and viruses.

        Meanwhile, Ars followed up and verified that it is indeed a spam filter run amok.

        http://arstechnica.com/apple/2013/02/icloud-e-mail-censorship-thanks-to-overzealous-spam-filtering/

        • TheOtherBen says:

          If it is a spam filter issue, then it’s puzzling why iCloud is deleting the emails rather than putting them in a “Spam Filter” folder like typical email services.  As Ars puts it:

          “the problem is precisely that these e-mails are blinked out of existence the second they’re sent. Customers have no way of knowing what they’re not receiving unless the sender manages to follow up via another medium, or with more e-mails that don’t contain trigger phrases.”

          • James Penrose says:

             ”If it is a spam filter issue, then it’s puzzling why iCloud is deleting the emails”

            Because Apple knows best dear.  You need to trust those who run the Cloud services.  Both Microsoft and Apple are far wiser than you can hope to be so just relax and let them do (to you) what they do best.

            If you don’t control it, you can’t trust it.  I’ll bet their TOS is loaded with things you can’t use their service for or types of files and emails you can’t send or store with them.

            One I saw for Microsoft, I think, looked like it had been written by Christian missionaries determined to keep their charges safe and innocent (and ignorant)

      • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

        It’s a totally understandable mistake: Apple thought that ‘jailbait’ was similar to ‘jailbreak’ and took resolute action accordingly…

    • angusm says:

      Reportedly, it will even censor instances of “barely legal teen” contained in PDF attachments – or even in PDFs that have been zipped. They’re really trying pretty hard to get those false positives.

      Incidentally, I don’t see Apple’s deep content inspection as a bad thing if it brings us closer to the day that all email gets automatically encrypted at origin.

      • Incidentally, I don’t see Apple’s deep content inspection as a bad thing if it brings us closer to the day that all email gets automatically encrypted at origin.

        One company I exchanged emailed data with blocked PGP encrypted data as well. The only way I could get my data through was it encrypt it, ASCII armour it, edit out the PGP headers and footers and separately ask the recipient to reinstate them from an example at their end.

    • Karthakon says:

      A spam filter still delivers your messages, it just puts them in a spam folder.

      • otterhead says:

        This isn’t a spam folder, it’s just deletion.

      • NorhillJohn says:

        Wrong. Even when you have a spam folder, there are plenty of emails that don’t get there either – the spam folder is the stuff that *might* be OK that’s given to you to inspect. There’s a ton of stuff that just gets killed before getting anywhere near your inbox. 

    • cleek says:

       but it’s sinister, because Apple’s doing it.

      • Hegelian says:

         It’s sinister because it doesn’t go into your Spam folder but, instead, goes directly nowhere, with no bounce to the sender, and because who knows what other legal terms and words may also be getting the same treatment.

        I want to be saved from spam, but I also want to get legit mail. So how spam protection is enacted is important. The devil is in the details. Right now Apple is being a bit devilish.

        • ivankb says:

          Thanks Hegelian, fanbois keep me smiling though, long may they troll.

        • cleek says:

          Then Apples I could email is not for you.

          But, you should probably know that blocking spam before delivery is not new, nor is it exclusive to Apple. Automated spam blocking at the server is common.

          • ivankb says:

            Absolutely, spam blocking is done that way.  But it’s not arbitrarily based on a someone’s list of “bad” phrases.

        • NorhillJohn says:

          Spam filters *never* send bounces to senders. That would be a great way to train spammers on the best way to get past spam filters by providing constant feedback on what’s getting blocked. 

          The big headline isn’t here is “censorship” (linkbait!) but rather “Apple’s spam filters don’t work quite as well as some other email providers’ spam filters.” Burn the witch!

  3. bo1n6bo1n6 says:

    Well there goes my teen legal advice blog.

  4. India Osaka says:

    I copied the text in the macworld article (“My friend’s son is already allowed to drive his high-powered car. It’s ridiculous. He’s a barely legal teenage driver? What on earth is John thinking.” with ‘ducks’ as the subject) and it left my icloud and glided into my gmail account fine. Sending the same text from another of my gmail accounts (why just have one?) to my icloud account also worked without incident.

    These accounts were unfamiliar to each other. I’m not suggesting that this anecdote contradicts entirely Macworld’s article, but its own sample size seems small.

  5. Boundegar says:

    The odd part is that barely legal teens are, by definition, legal.

  6. toyg says:

    So it’s not just their stock price that is on a slippery slope.

  7. haineux says:

    iCloud mail is filtered by a third-party service, I want to say, “BrightMail.” So the blame is not entirely Apple’s, but, I certainly agree it’s a bad thing.

    Why is Apple deleting mails, rather than putting them into a “Spam” folder? Have you ever used a service that ONLY re-filed messages? (Yahoo) The result is that you have a “spam” folder with 70% of your messages in it — at minimum. It’s a nightmare. 

    (YES, no matter if you’ve never used the email address on the internet, ever. Spammers generate likely addresses and send zillions of emails. Why not? It’s not like it costs anything to do so. Most of the spam is being sent by infected computers on bot nets.)

    If the spam filter is SURE a message is spam, it is a GOOD THING to delete it. However, as is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer, the penalty for being wrong is pretty high.

    I am surprised that Apple/BrightMail did not get bit by this sooner. At least the message in question is, in fact, pretty questionable. If it had contained a design for an Android app, we’d never hear the end of it.

    • James Penrose says:

       ”Have you ever used a service that ONLY re-filed messages?”

      Yep, I’ve use SpamCop for about a decade.  Maybe 1% false positives or negatives and it’s all right there where I can see it, thy discard nothing.

      Their systems “learns” based on spam reporting as it goes and I can white-list stuff and adjust thresholds as I go so the false positives diminishes over time and was never high to start with.

      I’ve no interest in a service that kills off stuff addressed to me other than the known bot-nets and spamming sites.  Tag it and bag it and let me deecide beyond that.

  8. agrovista says:

    My guess this was a false positive that has now been removed from what ever the anti-spam product that apple uses (its not bright mail)

  9. “it was revealed today?”
    Taking a second or two to click the source link in that article reveals the story was first publicized last November: http://www.infoworld.com/t/cringely/hollywood-whodunit-whats-eating-emails-in-icloud-207335

  10. Garymon says:

    I wonder if it filters out BLT? 

  11. haineux says:

    Actually, I have another thing to say: Although bOingbOing is not necessarily “real journalism,” I am dissapointed that they decided to run a trolling headline rather than try to provide some kind of information that might educate someone.

    In general, when the comments are smarter than the article, the article sucks.

    • ivankb says:

      In general, an assertion like that is just silly. Where to start? It’s not an article? Who’s to say boingboing is required to educate? etc etc

  12. retepslluerb says:

    If providers would place everything spammy into a spam folder, you’d end up with a pretty large spam folder.

    Did you ever check the logs for a spam folder for a medium sized company?

  13. chris watts says:

    This is BS.  I just tested it on my own iCloud account with a message sent from Yahoo.   Routed to the spam box, but NOT deleted.

  14. It seems that Apple solved that. I emailed my @icloud:disqus account an email from my Gmail account containing the phrase and it got delivered to my iCloud inbox normally. I tried again and it worked. For the record, my only problem is with Foursquare. I was using a Gmail address with my Foursquare account but when I changed it to my iCloud address the verification email was not delivered at all.

    As for regular emailing, I think iCloud rocks. I switched from Gmail to it.

  15. Charlie B says:

    Apple’s iCloud email service deletes all emails that contain the phrase “barely legal teen”

    I thought everybody did that.  And also anything containing the strings “v1agr4″ or “c14Lis”.

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