Earthlink Is Still At It

I should have stuck to my original policy, previously announced here. That policy was, I will not reply to any message coming from an address. Twice in the last two days, I've had reminders of the wisdom of that course, through this sequence of events:

1) A reader on Earthlink writes me a message;
2) I reply;
3) Earthlink's spam filter immediately bounces back with a message like the ones at the bottom of this item, asking me to prove my bona fides before my reply is allowed to burden the inbox of the person who wrote to me in the first place. If I click on the "prove yourself" links, I am asked to go through the rigamarole shown below -- all for the privilege of answering an unsolicited email:


As explained earlier, I don't like this challenge-response system in general. If you want to use it, fine. (To the best of my knowledge, any Earthlink user has the option to disable it.) But don't use it -- and then write to people out of the blue and expect them to prove themselves in order to reply.

In the long run, I will try to jigger my system to work in a similar fashion: If it sees anything coming from an Earthlink address, it will send an automatic challenge message asking for detailed proof that the Earthlink email is not spam. Until I get that fine-tuned, I'm tempted to route all Earthlink mail straight to my own spam folder. But probably I'll just go back to the old "no reply" policy. (Mail from many other domains also gets the "no reply" treatment, but just for volume/chaos reasons. Nothing personal!) Too many bad apples have spoiled the Earthlink barrel for me.

The two messages that got my back up, are below. Again, I received each of them after replying to someone who wrote me with a question. I have taken out info that could identify the senders -- although, hell, why not leave it in, knowing that the spam filter will block incoming traffic. Other wisdom on this topic here and here -- it's especially worth checking out the comment stream for the second one.

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand. If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:


This is an automatic reply from

Please click below to get past my spamfilter. I will respond to you promptly. Thank you. -- MXXX

Click the link below to fill out the request:

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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