Wednesday, November 01, 2006

SPAM :-(

"We appear to be using an unusually high bandwidth on one of our two links..." that was the greeting this morning from John who is first line tech support. Hmmm... why?

20 minutes later I want to go to the balcony and SCREAM "AHHHHHHHHHHHH". Yes, I've found the culprit. Untold quantities of email are passing through one of our gateways. Thousands, tens of thousands of messages. "OK, STOP ALL EMAIL IMMEDIATELY".

We discovered a problem - one of our partners was sending out bulk email. Theoretically this was to about 1000 people who had [I hope] signed up to receive it, so it was not [I hope] spam. There was a problem in the computer program that was sending it [not written by us, but by a programmer working for them] which meant that thousands and thousands of emails were sent. Not only did this totally clog our system reducing performance to everyone, but because of the fault some people got more than 800 copies of the email [with Word document attachment]. This action could get both the partner and us listed as a spammer which has legal and ministry implications.

In response to this we have disconnected the offending partner from email entirely while we are doing whatever we can to reduce the impact of this activity upon them, us and other partners. Instantly disconnecting while we sort the problem may be irritating to them, but is essential to maintain the service to everyone. It takes time to sort out problems like this and may be a few days before we can restore service to them.

We have to very careful about sending mass or bulk emails to people. It is essential that whenever they send a mass or bulk email that you have clear evidence that the person receiving it has specifically and deliberately asked them to send it. If they do otherwise they will be classed as a spammer and their domain will become locked to send emails. What is more serious for us is that our servers will also become classed as spam servers and will then be blocked for all users to send emails.

Failing to comply is not just immoral it is also illegal under DIRECTIVE 2002/58/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications). Member states have different punishments for violation of their respective implementation of the directive, but I am sure I don't want to find out what the inside of a jail looks like without being merely a visitor!

What does the law mean in practice: If someone writes to a website or radio or TV station, then our our partners can write back and forth as much as they like. However, unless the person has specifically signed up to receive bulk emails then they may not send them an email that is sent to many people; they may not send them extra unsolicited information about the station; they may not send them a survey; they may not send anything which is more than responding to their specific email questions or comments. The response should be personal not bulk.

It is questionable and has not yet been tested in law if they may even send them an email asking them if they would like to sign up for extra information. Current opinion [among the professional ISP community] is that they may write to users who started communicating with the station before 2002 and ask them if they would like bulk emails, but they may only do this once and a non-reply must be considered to be a 'no'. In fact unless they have a specific 'yes' then everything must be considered 'no'.

As an example of the specific sign up, if they have a web page for people to send messages etc if they want them to be able to also receive bulk emails [eg newsletters or information about the radio station or website] they must have a separate check box for them to confirm they want these bulk emails. The check box must be unchecked and the user must check it - the law requires 'opt-in' not 'opt-out'. If they announce on the TV or radio an email address they must make it clear if this is for communicating with the station or to receive bulk emails. Unless they have specifically told the listener or viewer it is for bulk emails [eg "If you would like to receive ongoing information about our stations please send an email to this address"] or unless the listener or viewer has specifically asked for bulk emails [eg "Please send me information about your station whenever it is available" or "Please keep me up to date with all the programmes on your station"] then they must consider the email not to have opted in and never send them a bulk email.

Sounds severe... and it is. Currently on our main email server we reject twice as much spam email as we accept as real email and for some people the 'real' contains a high percentage of spam. Spam is a real problem, it wiill get to the point where email is totally unusable as a communication medium unless something is done about it quickly.

So that was the early morning distraction... now down to 'real work' -- mixing the audio for a drama DVD in Farsi. "Please God, give me a smooth ride on this one". This should actually be fun. I enjoy sound mixing and doing the final mix on a dub should be enjoyable.

Problem One: The Betacam tape that I am copying from appears to have problems, or is it a headclog or... phone call to engineer... no answer... try again later.

Problem Two: More major, the so called 'M and E' tape is different from the picture tape. 'M and E' stands for Music and Effects. When you are dubbing a programme into another language you prepare first an audio tape with just the Music and sound Effects. Over this you add the new dialogue and finally mix them all together to make a combined audio track. Alongside this you take the pictures from the picture master tape. The picture master tape should be identical to the M and E tape. It wasn't. Why?

Phone call to production team in Egypt. They knew there had been problems during the editing [some years ago] but didn't realise the two tapes were not identical. Now I have to find out where they are non-identical and make artistic decisions as to how to correct it. Simple... not.

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