Try These Spam Fighting Tips

Category: Spam

According to researchers, it is estimated that about 56 percent of all email traffic is spam. But I rarely see any spam in my inbox. That's because Gmail blocks 99.9 percent of all spam, phishing and malware emails. Read on to learn how you can get near-perfect spam filtering, even if you don't use Gmail...

Blocking Spam With Gmail

According to Statista, a global research firm that provides market and consumer data, the ratio of legit emails to spam is improving. In the beginning of 2012, spam accounted for almost 70 percent of all emails. Today, that number has decreased to about 55 percent. One factor in that decline is machine learning, an application of artificial intelligence, which has been part of Gmail’s spam filter program since its inception.

Every time a user clicks the “Report Spam” or “Not Spam” button on a message, Gmail learns something that helps it filter spam better. But Google is also using technology to help Gmail learn on its own, without the user’s clicks.

The Gmail spam filter uses an artificial neural network (ANN) that can detect and block the “especially sneaky” spam that sometimes slips past users’ radar. What’s an “artificial neural network,” you ask? The oversimplified answer is, a lot of computers connected to each other in an attempt to simulate the interconnections of human brain cells. It’s expensive to build an artificial neural network; most are tiny, with 1 to 10 million connections.

Gmail Spam FIlter

Google has built an ANN with over one billion connections using the processors in its vast and far-flung empire of data centers. That sounds awesome, until you learn that the human brain contains several trillion connections! None the less, Google’s ANN is capable of rudimentary human-like self-learning. That means you don’t have to teach it what spam is.

In one experiment, Google’s ANN was fed millions of still images of cats culled from YouTube videos. The images were not labeled as “cats” and programmers did not tell the ANN what a “cat” is. The ANN figured it out for itself, learning to recognize cats in virtually any image. If it can do that, it can recognize spam with greater accuracy than most humans can. Early this year, Google announced that thanks to their machine learning framework known as TensorFlow, they are able to block an additional 100 million spam messages daily.

Unidentified Frying Objects?

You don't have to do anything to use Gmail's spam filtering - it's automatic. But you can add your own filters to funnel messages into folders, forward to another address, and other actions. See my article Missing Emails? Tweak Your Spam Filter for help adding filters to Gmail, Yahoo, or webmail.

But the ANN is still not perfect. Just as humans see UFOs in pictures of streetlights, Google’s ANN sometimes sees spam in legitimate messages and mistakenly consigns them to the spam folder. Google claims that only about 0.01 percent (1 in 10,000) of legitimate emails are falsely labeled as spam these days. As the ANN learns more about email, that figure should fall even further.

Take a look in your Gmail spam folder, and see how it's working. If you do find certain messages are being incorrectly flagged as spam, you can create a Gmail filter for them, with a "Never send to Spam" action, so they'll be delivered to your inbox.

How does Gmail’s spam filter compare to other free Webmail services, such as Microsoft’s and Yahoo? I haven’t been able to find any independent, rigorous studies of this question. I’ll just note that Yahoo seems rather overzealous about spam filtering, and quite a few of my outgoing messages to Yahoo accounts end up wrongly labelled as spam, or just don't get delivered at all. If you have any relevant data on this, please do share.

Another spam-fighting technique that Gmail employs doesn’t really tackle spam, in my opinion. Gmail attempts to learn individual users’ reading preferences and filter out even legitimate mail that goes unread. The company gives the example of email newsletters. One user reads them assiduously while another just lets them pile up unread, or deletes them without reading. Why people don’t just unsubscribe from newsletters is one of life’s mysteries. Hopefully, Gmail can distinguish between legit opt-in email newsletters and the ones that just arrive without your consent.

Finally, Gmail is providing help for legitimate, large-volume email publishers whose communications are sometimes wrongly condemned as spam. The Gmail Postmaster Tools will help airlines, banks, credit card companies, and other well-known firms analyze the fate of their emails and improve their delivery and reading rates.

Even if you don't use or like Gmail, you can still use it to filter spam. Here's one technique that some people use to "pre-filter" their incoming emails. Instead of providing your actual email address when asked, give out a Gmail address that you've created. Configure that Gmail account to simply forward everything to your actual address. Gmail does spam-filtering BEFORE forwarding, so the messages that do get forwarded are virtually spam-free.

Gmail’s spam filter is so reliable and accurate that I hardly ever check my spam filter for false positives anymore. I get hundreds of emails daily, and I can't even remember that last time I’ve clicked on the “Report Spam” button. The spam filter just works.

Do you use Gmail? How is the spam filtering working for you? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Try These Spam Fighting Tips"

Posted by:

Don L. Zahnle
20 Sep 2019

My current experience is very similar to yours with gmail.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2019

Gmail is AWSOME!
Does a great job.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2019

"Every time a user clicks the “Report Spam” or “Not Spam” button on a message, Gmail learns something that helps it filter spam better."

This only applies if you are using the web interface. If you are using a mail reader, you are only telling the reader about it and Gmail doesn't hear about the item.

If you use a mail reader, it is a good idea to find the spam that got through and mark it using the web interface.
Even more important is to look at the spam folder via the web interface and check for real mail that got through. As you mark these, the filter gets better at seeing that you want certain messages that look spammy to it.

With a little training, the mistakes go way down. I can go many months with no mistakes from Gmail's filter.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2019

For some reason, some Gmail server has decided that some non-virus messages contain a virus and is blocking them. Only one group has told me about this and I am trying to isolate why some of their emails go through and others get bounced.
The weird thing is that I sent a photo to myself (so I could get it from another location) and it bounced it back.


Mail Delivery Subsystem

Message may contain a virus
Your message wasn't delivered to because it may contain a virus. Learn how to check for and prevent viruses.
The response from the remote server was:
571 5.7.1 Message contains spam or virus or sender is blocked : swim89_8bd15e34da60d

Posted by:

David Solomons
20 Sep 2019

Gmail is indeed very good at filtering out spams on email.
I am curious to know whether you have experienced spammers who use "Comments" sections on your website. Currently I use Akismet (a Wordpress plugin) which is effective but it would be interesting to be able to contact those spammers just to tell them that they are wasting their time :-) I sometimes email them (which I know I shouldn't do!), but never get a reply.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2019

Like so many others, family and friends were getting more spam than legitimate e-mail, when most of us had Hotmail. At the time, complaints to Microsoft were useless, so when gMail became available, most of us jumped ship. [Problem solved.] Those who stayed,(it's now called Outlook) STILL cry about digging through a mess in their Inbox, to find the few messages they actually care about. I rarely bring up the solution anymore, as they obviously aren't listening. If they haven't switched by now, they aren't likely to. Excellent article Bob!

Posted by:

Bob K
20 Sep 2019

Does it do any good to forward SPAM to SPAM@UCE.GOV? Obviously, you have to set your mail client so it will show all the headers when you do that.

I used to see good results from doing that, but currently there is one small group that bombard me with endless amounts of SPAM and it never ends.

Posted by:

Judy Olson
20 Sep 2019

I just reported two Social Security newsletters, email from my phone provider and a couple others in my gmail as 'not spam'. Would help if gmail would recognize government and major companies.

Posted by:

top squirrel
20 Sep 2019

I used to get lots of spam, almost all of which were come-ons by lonely attractive young ladies in the near-nude who promised me what they thought I must want. I used to open these emails because a few of them had pictures I liked (I NEVER replied). It was amusing to note that the same picture may be attached to come-on emails from women of different names.
After I stopped opening the emails and just trashed them unread I noticed new spam of that type went down to near nothing.
Now all I get is email spam from Home Advisor who provides no opportunity to write anything that requires a reply and who seems to think I live in a locality 50 miles away. And wants me to trust their recommendations. (I wonder how much of a cut they get.)

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
20 Sep 2019

Gmail's spam filter is great!
It's true that they occasionally mark a legitimate email as spam, but in my last look in the spam folder all but one were emails I signed up for often unwittingly that I just haven't gotten around to unsubscribing. And even that one wasn't something I really need in my inbox.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2019

I don't regularly use gmail. I do use office exchange for one of my emails. My other email addresses are all small companies. I get hardly any spam at all these days. Even in greymail (spam folder). Perhaps I'm doing it wrong (or right).

Posted by:

Dr. Sheldon Cooper
20 Sep 2019

"Why people don’t just unsubscribe from newsletters is one of life’s mysteries."

I think this can be explained primarily by laziness and secondarily by the possibility of an Unsubscribe link being malicious.

Posted by:

Bob K
20 Sep 2019

I have one group of newsletters that has about a 50% SPAM content. And, I have truly tried to unsubscribe, without success.

Each unsubscribe request I have submitted to their Majordomo results in a reply my request has been forwarded to the newsletter owner. But, the newsletter keep coming in.

I have also sent emails direct to the newsletter owner, and never received a reply.

Posted by:

Old Nana
20 Sep 2019

I delete several newsletters without reading them due to lack of time. However, I'm interested enough in them to open them when a topic particularly interests me. I like the effective spam filtering by Google, but to change my email address for friends, family, businesses, banks, social security, et al, would be a living nightmare.

Posted by:

Dr Melvin L
20 Sep 2019

One reason so many people don't use the unsubscribe function is that there are a lot of people out there still telling newbies not to do it because it is just confirming that the spam has reached a valid email and they will get even more!

Have you seen any stats on how many, if any, are really doing that. I haven't been able to locate any data on it.

I use gmail for some "dodgy" things so their filters get it first and then it is forwarded to my main email address as you suggest.

Posted by:

22 Sep 2019

This note directed to those who find junk in their spam folder (or even in their Inbox) for which they requested stoppage. In GMail you can set up a filter to Delete the unwanted emails as they arrive. They are then sent directly to the BIN and you will never see them again. Filters work.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
22 Sep 2019

Although I'm happy with the high quality of Gmail's spam filtering, I never completely trust such filters. I always perform a quick eyeball scan of the emails in my spam folder, typically about once a day (when typically 25 to 75 emails have accumulated there). Then I select them all and move them to my trash folder, where they will sit for the next 30 days until they roll out automatically and are permanently deleted. That way if I later discover that I must have missed an important email that was mistakenly identified as spam, I still have a month to try to retrieve it.

Posted by:

Eric Bloch
22 Sep 2019

My wife's email is gmail and mine is using my last name and For simplicity both are forwarded to a single gmail account. Interesting is that the same email forwarded from the individual accounts will sometimes have one labeled as spam but the other not spam.

Posted by:

24 Sep 2019

Hi Bob, thank you for another interesting email, with a great suggestion about forwarding emails via gmail to use their filtering service. I have had several false positives in the past, but fewer recently.
With six email addresses, not all gmail, I will try forwarding all of them through one gmail address to see if that cuts the increasing number of spams I receive, most of them through gmail. That way I can check false positives on just one account, and report them, as well as feeding "junk" messages back to Google once in a while.

I wish Google would stop identifying me as "someone" trying to access my google account as suspicious (at least once a week) but that is another topic!

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