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Members Removed for Marking Messages as spam

[work in progress]

There is one particular circumstance in which members might find themselves automatically removed from the membership of a Group. This note has been compiled in the hope of providing some clarification because as things stand it can be hard for any individual to work out what has happened.

FAQ

Will this happen to me?

Maybe. This issue affects users of specific email services that choose to interpret spam markings as a request to unsubscribe. Some do so even when it was their spam filter that redirected the message to your Spam folder. Check the list of Service Providers below, if your email service provider is not on that list then most likely you will not be affected.

Why was I removed from my group?

Possibly because you, or your email service, designated a message from the group as "spam", and then your email service reported that fact to Groups.io, with the expectation that Groups.io will stop sending group messages to you. See also the Mechanism section, below.

An important distinction:  You are not being accused of sending spam. Because a groups.io message was marked as spam -- in association with being received by your account -- this implies that you don't want to receive any more "messages like this." And in fact, many groups.io subscribers do this intentionally...mark group messages as spam rather than trying to figure out how to unsubscribe.

It is also possible that the administrators (moderators and owners) of the group removed you. In that case you may or may not have been notified of the reason, depending on that group's practices.

How do I get back into my group?

If Groups.io removed you then it sent you notification of the fact. That notification has a link to automatically restore your group membership. Look in your Spam folder or Trash for that notice, the link expires seven days after it was sent. See also the Notification section, below.

If you were removed by the group administrators you will have to re-join the group; if they allow you to do that.

How can I stop this from happening again?

Impertinent answer: choose an email service provider that isn't on the list below. If you are using a Yahoo Mail address solely because you used one in a Yahoo Group that has now been transferred to Groups.io, you could take this as your opportunity to change to the email service provider you prefer.

Members who use their Service Provider's mail UI:

Don't mark group messages as spam, and routinely check your Spam folder for any group messages that may have been misdirected there. If you find any there promptly mark them as "not Spam". Do not delete them from the Spam folder, or allow them to be automatically deleted from there.

Also, if your email provider supports one or more of these actions:

  • Create a filter to direct all group messages to your inbox
  • Add groups.io and/or frequent poster's email addresses to your Address Book
  • Add groups.io to a "safe senders" list.

Members who use an Email Client UI:

The relationship between a Service Provider's mail service and an Email Client is difficult or impossible to define inasmuch as it is unlikely to be obvious what exchanges might take place between the two as a background activity. If the Client downloads the Service Provider's Spam folder (and there is evidence that not all do) then marking anything as "not spam" in the Client may not be fed back to the Service Provider. Unless users have evidence to the contrary, it would be sensible to carry out such an action using the Service Provider's UI. It would be equally sensible to avoid deleting anything "genuine" in a Client spam folder (assuming that one exists) without prior marking as "not spam" just in case that deletion as spam is communicated back to the Provider, possibly leading to an "unsubscription".

For similar reasons setting up a filter or safe senders list in an Email Client may be ineffective, although it would not do any harm. However, unless the Service Provider is somehow able to "see" that list it will not impact how how the Service Provider treats suspected spam. The solution is to use such filtering or listing that the Service Provider offers in its UI.

One user - settable function between Service Provider and Client is the way in which mail is deleted from the Provider's server. One setting deletes all messages from the server immediately they have been downloaded to the Client; if that download includes the Provider's Spam folder then that automatic deletion might be enough to force FBL action (where implemented) which in turn is likely to result in an "unsubscription". It is suggested that members whose mail is currently set up that way alter their Client settings so that the deletion from the Provider's server takes place either (a) when mail is deleted from the deleted items folder in the Client, or (b) after <user settable> days have elapsed. Either of these two settings will allow members using Email Clients to check for and deal with incorrectly identified spam without any undesirable deletions / unsubscriptions beating them to it.

Members whose Email Clients do not download the Provider's Spam folder are strongly recommended to check their Provider's mail UI regularly (say weekly?) to check for anything that may have been incorrectly labelled as spam.

Why does this happen on Groups.io, but not on Yahoo Groups or other email lists?

Because Groups.io is not too big to block. [beta #16418] That is, email services may give the larger list providers some leeway because blocking messages from them would upset too many of the email service's users. Groups.io's participation in the spam control mechanisms offered by various email services is seen as a way of helping to establish a positive reputation for Groups.io with those email services and thereby help ensure that every Groups.io subscriber receives group messages reliably and in a timely fashion.

What is the position of Groups.io management on why this is being done?

There are statements about why this is being handled this way in [beta #10753] and [beta #11900].

Mechanism

Some Mailbox Providers (MPs), aka Email Services, will send a report back to the sending email service when a received message is determined to be “spam”. This is called a feedback loop (FBL) and is intended as an anti-spam mechanism[1]. Not all MPs implement this mechanism. Among those that do, there are ambiguities as to how some of them make that determination, and what those MPs expect the sending service to do as a result of receiving such a report. These ambiguities have resulted in confusion and inconvenience for Groups.io members and group administrators (group moderators and owners).

In the "User Initiated" case, the determination originates with the MP's user (the group member, for our purposes), most likely by clicking a button to designate the message as "spam". MPs generally interpret that designation as an instruction not to deliver any more messages "like" that one to the user. MPs that implement a FBL then send an abuse report to Groups.io. In that case, removing the member from the group is justified on the basis that the member no longer wishes to receive the group's content. It may be that simply marking a specific email as spam is sufficient to trigger the FBL; it may also be that the triggering occurs when the email designated as spam is finally deleted.

In the "MP Initiated"  case, the determination is made automatically by the MP's discriminator ("spam filter") and the message delivered to the member's "Spam" or "Junk" folder instead of to his/her Inbox. If the member does not discover the message there and designate it as "not spam" before the message is automatically purged from the Spam folder, then the MP may generate an abuse report just as if the member had specifically designated the message as Spam.

The difficulty for Groups.io is that it is not told by he MP whether the abuse report was generated for the "MP Initiated" reason rather than for the "User Initiated" reason. The difficulty for the group member is that if his/her MP implements the latter case the mechanism can operate entirely without his/her knowledge, up until the point where the member is removed from the group.

In either case, Groups.io attempts to minimize the inconvenience to the group member by sending a notice to him/her. The notice contains a link to automatically restore the member's subscription to the group. A notice is also sent to the Owner and Moderators of the group concerned.

Notification

Activity Log

Group admins (owners and moderators) can discover if any members have been removed for this reason by examining the group's Activity log. In the Actions drop-list select Removed because of spam report then click the blue Search button.

Email notices

Prior to 22 March 2018 the resulting emails sent by Groups.io to (a) the member, and (b) the Group Owner & Moderators were not entirely clear about what had happened and why, mainly because it was not made clear that it could have been the email service provider that had marked the email as spam. This marking is sent back to Groups.io by the ESP (Email Service Provider), and in turn Groups.io is more or less compelled to react to this by cancelling the individual’s membership of a Group. Not all ESPs send “marked as spam” information back to the message’s originator.

The member was confronted by an email that rather suggested that they were responsible for what had happened, and if they wished to restore their membership to click a link provided for the purpose, but given that the member had no knowledge of the message email that had been marked as spam and thus diverted to the their spam box by their ESP some reluctance to use that link was understandable. Similarly the Group Owner / Moderators were simply informed that the member had marked the message as spam, and as a result could be equally bewildered about what had really happened.

The Notification Messages were amended on 22 March 2018, and are as follows.

 

Notification to member (from 22 March 2018)


From: groupname+owner@groups.io

To: (Whom it may concern)
Subject:
You have been removed from ...


Hello,

Because your Email Service Provider reported to us that one or more messages sent to you from GROUPNAME has been marked as spam you have been automatically removed from the group. We suggest that you check your spam box as soon as possible to see if your Email Service Provider has diverted legitimate messages into it.

You will receive no more emails from that group. If this was a mistake, you can resume your subscription within the next 7 days by clicking the following link:

RESUB LINK

Groups.io groups offer several options for controlling how much and what types of emails to receive. See this Help Center article for more information:

https://groupsio.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/202739445

If this happens repeatedly please check with your email service to learn about how they decide to send feedback reports to list services (such as groups).

Cheers,
The Groups.io Team



Notification to Owner & Moderators


 

From: <Group Name>@groups.io Notification [noreply@groups.io]

To: <Owner & Moderators>


Hello,

This is to notify you that <email address of member> has been unsubscribed from your group <Group Name>@groups.io because a message to them was marked as spam. Note that this may have been done by their email service provider, not by the individual member personally. They've been given a link that lets them quickly resubscribe, in case this was an error.

To turn off this notification, log into https://groups.io and edit your subscription.

Thank you for choosing Groups.io groups.

Cheers,

The Groups.io Team


Service Providers

Not all email service providers offer a FBL mechanism to sending services. Of those that do, some do not include actionable information with regard to unsubscribing particular users of their service. The list below is gathered from reports by group owners who've had members removed and from postings in beta by Groups.io (Mark).

As at 12th April 2018 Groups.io operates (or is believed to operate) feedback loops with the following Service Providers:

  • aol.com -- reported by Groups.io [#16418], seen in GMF
  • att.com -- seen in GMF
  • btinternet.com -- (some, see below), seen in GMF
  • btopenworld.com -- (some, see below)
  • earthlink.net -- reported by Groups.io [#16418]
  • hotmail.com -- reported by Groups.io [#16423], seen in GMF
  • msn.com -- seen in Group_Help
  • outlook.com -- reported by Groups.io [#16418]
  • pacbell.net
  • rocketmail.com -- serviced by Yahoo Mail
  • rr.com -- reported by Groups.io [#16418]
  • sbcglobal.net -- serviced by Yahoo Mail
  • wowway.com -- reported by user [#16480]
  • yahoo.com -- reported by Groups.io [#16418], seen in GMF
  • yahoo.co.uk -- serviced by Yahoo Mail
  • ymail.com -- serviced by Yahoo Mail

Those btinternet.com addresses still provided by Yahoo may be subject to messages marked as spam causing the deletion of a group membership. btopenworld.com addresses also seem vulnerable, but at the time of this entry the identity of the mail service provider is not known.

 

The above list was prepared in good faith but should not be regarded as definitive.

 

A more comprehensive list of ESPs that provide FBLs is maintained at

wiki.asrg.sp.am/wiki/Feedback_loop_links_for_some_email_providers

. Note: Groups.IO does not necessarily receive, nor utilize FBLs from those organizations.


References:

  1. Wikipedia: Feedback loop (email)
  2. IETF Complaint Feedback Loop Operational Recommendations
  3. IETF Format for Email Feedback Reports