Why rejecting email from "certain countries" may be a bad idea

Even in this age of private and public organizations merrily handing out their email Gmail or some other “cloud” provider, there still are lots of organizations that run their own email server. This is better, in my opinion, for reasons I have already explained in “Wanted: Virtual Personal Email Servers”. Every now and then, however, the administrator of one of those servers goes online and asks something like “how can I automatically refuse or delete all email coming from certain countries?”

When you ask them why they want to do this, the usual answer is that it is a “business decision” that consists of some combination of these two reasons:

  • all email coming from country X is surely spam, why bother with it?
  • server load reduction: “our business only services this specific geographic area, why should our email server accept connections from outside that area?”

I am collecting explanations on how to do this in another page, for reasons explained there. So, if you want to know how to block email based on its geographic origin, please read that other article. Before that, however, let’s ask ourselves again “why”: is automatically rejecting all email “from certain countries” a wise move?

Personally, I think it is not wise, with very few possible exceptions.

In my opinion, automatically rejecting email only because it appears to come from whatever country is sending the most spam in any given moment may look just a little too much like racism. Configuring the server of any charity, school or cultural institution in this way may be really counterproductive, PR-wise. More practically: even if spam didn’t exist and you aren’t a charity, school or museum, assuming that an email coming from some parts of the world can be automatically deleted or refused because it couldn’t be possibly relevant for you is a decision that may blow in your face some day.

Here are some reasons why giving for granted that email “coming” from outside any predefined geographical area can be automatically deleted, because it surely is spam or totally irrelevant stuff doesn’t seem a smart idea to me.

The first one is that the IP address of the computer from which a user sends an email may have nothing at all to do with where that user lives or work, or who she is. Let’s say I go to Asia for business or leisure, and while I’m there I suddenly remember something that my colleagues should know as soon as possible. In that case, I’d hook my laptop to the closest wi-fi network, or visit the closest Internet cafè and write from there. Should my company block my message because “it’s from Asia”? If you’re a service business limited to that area, what about people who are considering relocating to that area and want to check if they could use your services once they move?

What about if your suppliers are just local distributors of some company whose central offices are in “one of those countries”, they CC those offices when answering to a support request from you and you lose the answer from abroad?

My email server is in a country different from where I live, because it is cheaper and more convenient/reliable for many other reasons which are irrelevant right now. Many businesses worldwide still do the same because it does make sense in many cases. Should the shop or insurance agency ten blocks away from my computer reject an info request because it “came” from abroad? Here’s a real world example of this case from the archives of the PostFix mailing list:

I stopped blocking based on country when someone who lived a mile away from me couldn't email my client who lived a block away. Why not? Because unknown to him, his .com domain's web host and email provider was based in Singapore.

Another issue is online support. Any user of an email server that automatically refuses messages coming from some places is giving up any technical (in the broadest sense) support through mailing list or web forums with email notifications… unless, of course, the servers running those services are in the area that your system administrator considers acceptable.