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Tech Q&A: Why you aren't told your email is blocked

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Science & Technology News

Q: I learned that email providers sometimes block mail sent from other providers over the issue of misuse. But when my provider was blocked, I wasn't told. I only learned later that some of my outgoing mail wasn't delivered. Shouldn't email users be notified if they're being blocked?

--Dutch Nagle, Hereford, Ariz.

A: The deliberate blocking of email traffic is an anti-spam (junk mail) defense. While it inconveniences some email users, it's also fleeting, so users are unlikely to be notified.

Why does it happen at all? When email provider A receives an excessive amount of spam from provider B, A blocks incoming mail from B. This isn't punishment so much as a wake-up call to provider B to get rid of the spammers using its email network. Once B takes action against the spammers, A lifts its blockade, usually in a couple of days. Among email providers, this is considered to be responsible spam-prevention, so it's likely to continue.

Fewer consumers are affected than you would think. Why? Because email provider A doesn't usually block all mail coming from provider B, just the mail coming from a few of B's mail servers -- the ones used by the spammers. So only some of provider B's customers are blocked.

But if you feel your email provider is being blocked too frequently -- signifying a poor job of policing for spammers -- change providers.

Q: My Microsoft Word documents have all been mysteriously changed to something called "Office Open XML Documents." Now Word can open but not edit them. What's wrong?

--Ron Atkinson, Bloomington, Minn.

A: You are the victim of a mass-file conversion, but you can undo it.

Your files have been converted from the pre-Office 2007 Word file format (.doc) to the newer file format (.docx). The latter format is also called "Open XML."

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