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Is Apple Secretly Filtering Your Outbound MobileMe Emails?

Is Apple Secretly Filtering Your Outbound MobileMe Emails?

A recent report claims to confirm that Apple is secretly filtering your outgoing MobileMe messages based on content. The practical upshot is that if Apple doesn’t like the content in an email you’ve sent, they may refuse to send it without saying a word.

The report comes to us from CultofMac, who is exclusively covering the issue. They claim that it appears that the MobileMe server is filtering for both spam and potentially objectionable political content without informing their users.

In testing the filtration, it was discovered that MobileMe’s web interface reliably filtered a message designed to read like a mass political email. Speculatively speaking, it’s possible that Apple is doing this in an attempt to discourage mass mailings and spam by refusing to send messages that appear to their filters as such.

The problem was first reported in a thread at the MacInTouch forums, with a user reporting extreme difficulties sending a politically-worded email to a mailing list that he had set up. The message that he had difficulty with is as follows:

The authoritarian Governments in Syria, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Yemen continue to oppress and massacre their own citizens. Their manipulative and combative attempts at controlling the media and their citizens are unethical and illegal. They continue to oppress its own citizens through beatings, harassment, jailing and killings.
Stop the oppression of innocent Arab People!!!
Take a stand against Authoritarian Oppressive Regimes!
Equal Rights to all people!

Apparently, this email failed to arrive to his recipients each time he sent it, while other emails continued to go through as expected. CultofMac further tested the filtration by sending three separate test emails with the same text as above, and each of those three times, the messages did not arrive, and there was no indication in any of those cases that the email was rejected by the recipient’s email server.

According to the report, the filtration is only in effect when messages are sent from the web interface, as messages sent through an email client do not exhibit the same issues. This is concerning news, because, while many emails will filter content based on how rapidly messages are being sent, or can target auto-responses sent out too fast to too many people, Apple’s MobileMe filtering appears to be uniquely content-based.

If this report is true, wouldn’t this filtering certainly meet the criteria for political censorship? Apple seems to be going way too far with this, and the fact that this is not mentioned in any terms of service or user agreements, or mentioned to the user, or even easily discoverable by the end user in any way, is it not a bit inappropriate for Apple to be “big-bothering” the content you send?

I find this behavior to be outrageous, and insulting to the autonomy and humanity of their customers on multiple levels. Repeated attempts to contact Apple about this concern have failed to produce any response whatsoever. If this sort of filtering is going to take place, the customer should certainly be informed that it is happening – or at least should be informed when a message does not go through. In fact, I firmly believe that such measures should be on a strictly opt-in basis.

What are your thoughts? As always, we encourage you to provide feedback by sounding off in the comments!