Apple is invisibly filtering outgoing messages sent with its popular MobileMe webmail app based upon their content, Cult of Mac can exclusively confirm.
That means that if Apple doesn’t like the way you’ve written an outgoing email, they might just opt not to send it, and never bother telling you why.
It appears the MobileMe server is filtering outgoing email for spam and mass emails, without informing users.
In our tests, Apple’s MobileMe web interface consistently filtered one specific message that was phrased like a political mass email. It appears that in an overzealous attempt to discourage mass emailers from using MobileMe, Apple is simply refusing to send any outgoing email sent through their web app that triggers their anti-spam, mass email conditions… giving the appearance of political censorship.
In a thread on MacInTouch, MobileMe user Ken Rosenblum first reported the problem when attempting to send the following email to a mailing list.
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!
According to Ken, every time he tried to send that email, it wouldn’t be received by its intended recipient. Other emails would go through fine.
Although there are conflicting reports on MacInTouch about the problem, we can confirm that Apple’s MobileMe email service is filtering outgoing messages, but only those sent through the web interface.
In our tests, we sent three test emails with Rosenblum’s text from the MobileMe web interface to three separate email addresses, all of which had spam filtering turned off. None of the messages arrived, nor did the MobileMe account used to send them receive a bounce message.
We then sent the exact same text to all three email addresses, this time from Mail.app under OS X Lion. This time, the emails came through fine.
Finally, we used the webmail app to send random messages with the text “This is a test” to all three email addresses. They also arrived without a problem.
According to Ken Rosenblum, who originally noticed the problem, Apple’s filtering of outgoing MobileMe messages counts as censorship.
“If Apple or anyone else is going to block/filter/censor emails, they should at least notify the customer that the message did not go through,” said Rosenblum.
While it’s true that most hosts do some sort of content filtering with outgoing emails — for example, for sending too many messages during too short a period of time, or autoresponding to too many people — Apple’s MobileMe filtering appears to be unique in that it is based upon the content.
Presumably, MobileMe’s outgoing email filtering is a preventive measure to keep spam from being sent through Apple’s webmail servers. However, since there’s no information on what content triggers Apple’s anti-spam conditions, and since the offending emails aren’t returned to sender with an error message attached, Apple’s MobileMe email filtering has all the superficial appearance of censorship.
In other words? Send an email Apple doesn’t like and MobileMe’s web client might just filter you… and not bother to tell you about it for your trouble.
As of writing, Apple has not responded for comment.
Asked for comment, Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said that the filtering was not political.
“We want to make clear that Apple is not blocking MobileMe email due to political content,” Muller said in an official statement. “Occasionally, MobileMe’s automated spam filters may block legitimate user emails by mistake. If a customer feels that a legitimate email of theirs was blocked this way, we encourage them to get in touch and report the issue to MobileMe support.”
Asked if Apple had any intention of instituting error or bounce messages for MobileMe customers whose emails have been filtered, Apple said they had no additional comment at this time.
Updated at 19:45 ET With Apple’s Response by CultofMac