OK, mailless is an exaggeration.  But I’ve lost a bunch of email addresses without notice.  And these are the addresses I give to important people like banks, stockbrokers, share registrars and government agencies, as well as companies I do business with online.

This is basically my domain. My public email filters spam quite aggressively, and wouldn’t be smart enough to distinguish between my bank or broker and a spammer.  So best to have it reject anything purporting to come from a financial institution, and give real banks/etc a separate unfiltered address as soon as they have a legitimate reason to communicate with me.

The system in place is that I created a new address for each sender.  That way, if spam starts arriving at one address I can painlessly delete that address without affecting anyone else.  Off the top of my head, I’ve had to do that with amazon@ and johnlewis@, as both those retailers started spamming as soon as they had addresses (probably in violation of data protection law, as I certainly didn’t give them permission to spam – I’m meticulous about reading the smallprint and ensuring “no” boxes are ticked while “yes” boxes are unticked, and not confusing the two).

So what’s just happened, and why is it particularly bad?

When I moved house, I contacted my old ISP to tell them I no longer wanted their ADSL service.  I asked about retaining email service (the one that operates these addresses) and they told me they offer that at a cost of £21/year.  That sounded good to me, so I said yes please.  That was May 3rd (when they also charged a termination fee for the ADSL service), and the mail continued to work as expected until this week.

Then on Monday afternoon I got a flurry of messages in my inbox: all my aliases (the actual addresses) and the mailbox had been deleted.  The final one told me my “product change” to their mail service was now complete.  WTF?  I tried to log in, but my username/password no longer worked.  Ouch!

That’s a serious problem.  With most of my correspondents, there’s no easy way to tell them of a change without going through a confirmation, which involves them emailing me at the old address.  And the old addresses are gone, so I can’t do that.  Big hoops to jump through, and each of 30+ organisations will doubtless be different.  Unless I can restore the addresses – either permanently or just for long enough to change them, but that decision can wait.

Worse, mail to those addresses will get returned instantly as undeliverable, causing mail systems to mark the address as invalid.  That’s completely different to a mailserver just being out of service, when the sender’s mail server will queue it (typically for five days, which probably hasn’t been necessary in practice since about 1990) without bothering the sender.  So even if I restore the addresses I may have to jump through some painful hoops to restore communication with some folks.

Especially my new bank, with whom I’m in the process of signing up for online service.  I’ve been trying to explain a couple of serious faults in their website, and now I’ve surely lost all credibility with them 😦

Given the hassle of hijacking so many addresses, my first reaction was to restore them.  So the first thing I did was to ‘phone the ISP and ask them to deal with it.  They admitted to having f***ed up, but all they would do was put my problem in a queue of support requests, to be dealt with in 48 hours!  I explained this was both mission-critical and qualitatively very different from a mere server outage.  But despite admitting fault, the person had no power to prioritise me.


I’m minded to ask for a substantial sum in compensation.  And get a lawyer to repeat my request more forcefully if it’s not forthcoming.

A special case is Apache (ASF) mail, which accounts for the vast majority of the volume of messages through some busy mailinglists, as well as mail to my address.  I was able to reroute that at some minor inconvenience, but because this hit me without notice, an hour or two’s mail from Monday afternoon will have been lost.

Posted on June 19, 2013, in email. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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