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By: MarkJ - 11 October, 2010 (12:29 PM)
talktalk uk internet isp email problemsCustomers of UK broadband internet and phone provider TalkTalk ( AOL UK, Tiscali , Opal ), specifically those who use the ISPs webmail service, appear to be up in arms after the operator introduced a new system that automatically deletes any email suspected of being SPAM (junk marketing messages). Sadly this appears to include many legitimate mails too.

The situation is part of the ISPs previously revealed email platform upgrade (here and here), which was first announced on 4th September 2010. The current problems have started within the last couple of weeks and are best covered in this TalkTalk Members Forum topic. Some customers claim to have received no warning about the change.

TalkTalk Email Upgrade

TalkTalk are keen to unify and improve the experience of our customers using our webmail products. As a result, we are moving all our customers onto a Single Mail Platform for better experience.

What is a Single Mail Platform?

The single mail platform will allow us to consolidate all our customers onto one webmail system so that we can provide an improved webmail interface and a better quality of service.

When is all this starting?

This will begin to take effect in the following order:

•Phase 1 - Tiscali (27th September - 18th October 2010)
•Phase 2 - TalkTalk (October 2010) -
•Phase 3 - Pipex (TBC) - Information to follow shortly

Prior to the update spam had been identified by TalkTalk's network-based filters and usually moved into the user's spam folder, although the user could choose to either leave it in the inbox, or delete it immediately. Under the new system spam "is now automatically deleted".

As most people already know, SPAM filtering is about as far from being an exact science as you can get and will often catch legitimate email too. Judging by the following sample of customer gripes, TalkTalk's service is being particularly aggressive.

"I've had 2 emails since Friday night - one an ebay outbid notice and the other from Talk Talk in order to register on the forums. Normally receive up to 100 per day (incl spam) and I know people have sent me emails that have never been received (including from within the same house!)"

"I too am tearing my hair out at the moment.

I have an old LineOne email address which used by family and friends. However, not much is getting through."

"This is a real problem. I have alternative email addresses but have been using my Tiscali one so as to keep spam to a minimum on my other ones. But now I'm getting hardly anything which might be good, but how do I know? I don't."

"Even more worrying for is the absence of the all the anti-spam options so I can no longer control what happens to spam e-mails :( ."

"I have received a grand total of 3 emails in the past 12 hours. Normally, I would see more like 50 and I'm thinking TalkTalk might be filtering out the missing ones and being hardnosed about it, in which case I'm worried. I prefer to make my own decisions about any borderline cases."

At present there are no Service Status updates concerning the problem and TalkTalk has yet to respond on the related forum topic. We have pointed the issue out to them and are awaiting a further reply.

ISPreview.co.uk always recommends using an email service that is external from your ISP, which can often offer greater resilience and allows you more flexibility to switch providers without having to worry about a loss of information.

We also encourage ISPs to deploy controllable server-side anti-spam filtering, which can give customers some degree of control over their addresses; even if that is merely in the form of a basic “on” or “off” switch. Mandatory anti-spam filtering is not always necessary and most filters will sadly catch some legitimate email.

UPDATE 12th October 2010 (8:58am)

We are still awaiting an official reply from TalkTalk, whom have simply told us that they are now investigating the problem. However several affected customers are being issued with the following statement.

TalkTalk Statement to Customers

Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience which may have been caused as a result of the issue which you are experiencing.

I do apologise that you are experiencing issues as a result of the email platform upgrades. Unfortunately we have been experiencing unexpected issues as a result of this upgrade. However our technicians are working to get all issues resolved, and the service should be fully restored and operational shortly.

I hope this is a satisfactory explanation. Talk Talk does take these issues seriously, and it is always our intention in customer relations to bring the concerns of our customers to a satisfactory conclusion.

Some unconfirmed reports also claim that TalkTalk should have these problems, which also include a variety of issues with logging in and not just message deletion, resolved tomorrow (Wednesday 13th). Still no mention on their Service Status page.

UPDATE 13th October 2010 (10:42am)

Finally got an official reply from TalkTalk.

A TalkTalk Spokeswoman told ISPreview.co.uk

As part of our improvement programme we are updating the Tiscali webmail platform. Users will now receive free anti-spam and a 500MB mailbox as standard.

In the short term, this has resulted in some performance issues and in some cases delays in delivering mail. We are working to resolve these issues as soon as possivle and users are already seeing some improvements. We will keep users updated regularly through the service status page.

We have been keeping an eye on the Service Status pages these past few days and not once have we spotted a mention of the email problems.

UPDATE 18th October 2010

We're still seeing a lot of complaints about this and will follow the situation up again soon if it's not resolved.

UPDATE 29th October 2010

Earlier this week TalkTalk issued a new update on the situation, suggesting that several performance and service issues have now been resolved, although we continue to receive some complaints.

Unable to login / slow performance
Following go-live we had a number of performance issues with the platform; these will have caused customers problems with login and usability of the system. Some of these were resolved by tuning of the system, but we continued to suffer issues which were traced to a network load balancer. Temporarily this has been removed from the system configuration, which restored the performance. We do need to re-introduce the load balancer at a later date, as this provides resilience against individual server failures.

We also have experienced problems with the network interfaces locking up on the servers. This has been traced to a bug in the operating system. As a temporary fix, we have added additional monitoring and scripts to detect and fix the lock-ups. Upgrades to the servers are being scheduled with Customer Services to apply the permanent fixes.

The effects of these lock-ups are intermittent service problems for customers, including occasional login issues and problems accessing inboxes. The ‘100% full’ issues are also symptomatic of this problem. The temporary fix should have significantly reduced the noticeable customer impact.

Mail delivery delays
This is the most concerning and includes the lineone customer examples. The customer mail is received correctly by the system, but is being delayed before delivery to the inbox. Examples of this are with Critical Path who are diagnosing this.

Empty Trash Folder
Customers with large trash folders were occasionally seeing error 500 when deleting bulk mail. A fix was applied for this on 13th October. We’re confirming with CS that this is no longer a customer issue.

Mail rules
Some customers have experienced problems with their mail filters, stopping mail delivery. On examination, the customers affected all have large filters that are exceeding a system limit. We suspect that the filters are there to deal with the excessive spam that they would have received on the ITS system. We’re fixing this in two phases. Temporarily we’re not applying the filters to ensure that mail gets through. In parallel, Critical Path are working on a code fix, which we should receive within the next 48 hours.

Password issues
During the migration, we’ve had to temporarily suspend password resets to ensure that ITS and our systems stay in sync. We’re therefore having to provide more support to customers for password resets (or actually re-advising them what their passwords are). Once we’re through the migration, the reset functionality will be re-enabled. This is currently on schedule for 26th October.

Missing functionality
Customers have flagged a number of issues with the webmail functionality. The main ones are: (1) missing up and down arrows to move through mailboxes; (2) poor mail printing functionality; and (3) not being able to select multiple recipients when drafting mails. These are with the online development team as high priority items.

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