Glitches hit FTC ‘do-not-call’ list

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Nearly one-fourth of the consumers who tried to sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call database haven’t completed the process, the agency said Monday. The agency blames in part a series of technological glitches, including aggressive spam filtering by e-mail providers that accidentally deleted some confirmation e-mails sent by the FTC. But many consumers just haven’t replied to the FTC e-mail, which is the final step in the sign-up process, said FTC attorney Eileen Harrington.

MILLIONS OF CONSUMERS rushed the FTC’s ‘do-not-call’ Web site Friday, anxious to rid their homes of annoying night-time telephone solicitations.

Enrollment in the list is simple: Consumers visit a special Web site, fill out a simple form, then look in their inbox for an e-mail confirming the registration. But only after recipients click on a link in that e-mail are they enrolled in the database.

Many of those confirmation e-mails never made it to the registrants.

Harrington confirmed Monday that some of the FTC’s e-mails were misidentified as spam and automatically filtered by e-mail providers — an accident known as a “false positive” in the spam-filtering world. But she said the problem was fixed quickly, and only prevented about 100,000 registrants from completing the process.

But a number of other factors are contributing to the high rate of incomplete registrations, Harrington said. When traffic to the Web site is high, e-mail confirmations are delayed, in some cases as long as 24 hours, she said. Since some 7 million consumers registered on Friday, many confirmation e-mails didn’t go out until this weekend, and recipients didn’t immediately reply. Also, some recipients may be having trouble with the hypertext included in the e-mail, Harrington said.

Consumers who haven’t yet received their confirmation e-mails should be patient, she said. If the confirmation notes still haven’t arrived by the end of the week, the consumers should start over and re-register at the FTC’s Web site.

The snafus leave the exact status of nearly one-quarter of the “do-not-call” registrants in limbo. Harrington said concerned consumers can visit the FTC’s Web site and check their status.

Eric Greenberg, chief technical officer for NetFrameworks Inc., said Yahoo filtered out many registry confirmation e-mails on Friday. NetFrameworks monitors spam filtering technology.

Mary Osako, director of communications at Yahoo, confirmed in an e-mail the company did filter out some of the FTC e-mails on Friday.

An reporter who registered on Friday with a address has still not received his confirmation e-mail.

But Yahoo was hardly the only company to filter the FTC note, Greenberg said.

“It appears as though a good percentage of the very top providers at one time or another were ... filtering,” he said. ”(The FTC) really got bit by this pretty badly. The cost to the taxpayers is hard to estimate.”

In Yahoo’s case, Greenberg said, the firm’s software spotted a sudden surge in very similar e-mails, and automatically began filtering all notes with that message inside.

“The kind of filter they put in place flagged the content,” he said.

The spam filtering problem was not a total surprise. There were concerns from the third-party company contracted by the government to run the registry that the confirmation e-mails might trip spam filters.

In February, AT&T Government Solutions announced it had received a $3.5 million contract to develop the technology behind the Do No Call registry.

AT&T Government Solutions employee Richard M. Callahan sent an e-mail last Wednesday to a mailing list for network administrators predicting the problem.

“We are looking at the potential of MILLIONS OF EMAILS PER DAY beginning Friday. These will be from the same address and have the same subject line. I am worried about denial of service or blocking by spam filters if providers are not aware this is coming,” his note said. He was looking for help preventing the problem.

On Monday, Callahan directed phone calls to AT&T’s press office. An AT&T spokesperson said only the Federal Trade Commission could comment on the incident.

Friday’s registry launch was also marred by sluggishness at the FTC’s Web site, which at times could take up to 25 seconds to load, according to Internet traffic measurement firm Keynote Systems Inc. The e-mail filtering problem may have exacerbated the situation, Greenberg said.

“What did you do when you didn’t get the e-mail? You go back to the site and do it again,” he said. “Potentially, this caused the overload on the Web site.”