Museum name caught in spam filters

Howard Lake | 18 October 2004 | News

Most e-mail newsletter publishers soon become aware of the vagaries of spam and other filters which can prevent some subscribers from receiving their copies because that issue contained certain prohibited words. But one London museum’s name itself is causing all kinds of problems in terms of sending and receiving e-mails.

The Horniman Museum is an established anthropological museum in South London. According to the Guardian, it estimates that up to 10% of e-mails sent to and from the museum are being prevented from being delivered due to spam filters at ISPs and organisations which misinterpret the meaning of “horniman”.

The filters are affecting both e-mail and Web traffic, with some visitors reportedly being prevented from accessing horniman.ac.uk. The problem is particularly affecting schools, many of who use the educational services offered by the museum.

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The Horniman is facing a pernicious problem, and it is all the result of a number of badly configured filters outside their control. The museum’s staff are only going to find out about a particular ISP that is not allowing its e-mails to get through when a supporter or would-be visitor lets them know.

The best it can do is to encourage supporters and visitors to add the horniman.ac.uk domain to their e-mail package’s white list of approved recipients. They are also encouraging people to try visiting the Web site, and if they are prevented from doing so, let the museum know, and perhaps complain to their ISP. It is not a satisfactory solution, but at least they are aware of the problem.

Charities should review their domain names from time to time and check that they could not be misinterpreted by spam filters. Those sending out e-mail newsletters or alerts should also test the effect of spam filters both by using a filter such as Spam Assassin themselves and by testing the delivery of the newsletter to seed addresses at the various major ISPs.