Warning: Google cloud email spam FAIL

This is a public service announcement. If you're using Gmail, or the email built in to Google Apps, check your spam folder. Yes, you. Right now...

And if you're the IT person for an organization that uses Google Apps email, tell your users to check their spam folders. Senders of legitimate bulk email should also be taking action (of which, more later).

You may have gotten used to ignoring your spam folder -- Gmail's spam filtering is probably the best in the business. I certainly know of no other cloud email service that has better spam-filter accuracy than Google's.

Many other services are significantly worse. OK, that's an unscientific statement, but it's is based on a range of end-user and IT manager reports from users of cloud email services such as Microsoft Office 365 (née BPOS), and of cloud spam filters such as Symantec.cloud (née Messagelabs). 

Users of some other systems often need to grub around in the spam folder to retrieve legitimate messages that were erroneously flagged as spam by the filter -- what us spam-filtering jargonistas call false positives. Suffice to say that most Gmail users never even think about false positives, let alone check for them.

However, some time in the last day or three, Google pushed an update to its spam filter that should probably have you checking your spam folder frequently -- at least until the company fixes the problem. 

But now, nada. This tells me that Google has changed the spam filtering algorithm, or altered some parameters, with the effect that the filtering is now more aggressive. Increasing a filter's aggressiveness will, as sure as fireworks on July 4, also increase the risk of false positives.

And that's exactly what's happened. My spam folder is now chock-full of legitimate messages.  

But perhaps it's just me? Maybe I did something screwy to deserve this. So, off we go to consult the hivemind; let's see if other people are seeing the same thing.

First, a quick search on Twitter. Here are just two of many complaints...

Comments from friends on Facebook and Gmail also indicate that I'm not alone. Here are just two of many:

Thanks! I found at least 20 non-spam messages in that folder.?
I also checked and realized that two mails were in the spam folder, that did not belong there

Other comments included these ironic observations that Google is failing even to whitelist itself:

Ha! Gmail sent my Google Play receipt to spam!!
I had a google voice notification in the spam folder

...and so on. Yeah, it's not just me, but most users won't know there's a problem unless they check their spam folders.

It should be said that most -- but not all -- of the false positives are newsletters and other bulk email; however, these are requested and wanted messages -- ones that I've subscribed to, and absolutely not spam.

So, as I said, check your spam folder, and tell your users to check theirs. For the Web version of Gmail, you can find it on the left (but it may be hiding under the More link). If you're accessing Gmail via Outlook or an IMAP client, spam is usually hiding under the special [Gmail] folder.  

Senders of legitimate bulk email should also be taking action this day. Check your Gmail test accounts, to ensure your newsletters etc. are being delivered to the inbox. (Errm, you do have test accounts on all the major cloud email services, right?)

If you're seeing problems, light a fire under your email service provider's deliverability rep.  

Having said all that, no spam filter is perfect, but some are more perfect than others. Gmail's spam filtering record has been near-as-darnit exemplary since its earliest beta incarnation in 2004. Let's hope this is just a blip and that Google gets this problem under control quickly.

What's your experience? Comment below...

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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