Google Mail has a spam problem

April 3, 2008

Actually, Google Mail has had a spam problem for a while now. Their oldest problem is advance fee fraud spammers; GMail has been playing host to a revolving cast of them starting roughly from when it first became reasonably easy to obtain a GMail account. Given that 419 spam is hard to detect automatically this isn't too surprising, but still.

Recently it's gotten worse, possibly because automation may have become much better at creating GMail accounts. I'm seeing recognizable repeat spammers, with more or less the same message (and certainly shilling the same websites, because that's what I'm blocking on); if I can recognize these spammers, GMail certainly ought to be able to do so too. I believe I've even seen a phish spam through GMail.

(A remarkably bad phish spam, but still.)

I feel that GMail's spam problem is exacerbated by a number of issues:

  • GMail completely omits the sender's IP address. If GMail did a good job of stopping spam I would call this a commendable step to preserve user privacy; since GMail does not, I want that information in order to do my own filtering and I now have no confidence that GMail is actually stopping well known persistent spam sources.

  • GMail (and Google as a whole) has never seemed to take spam from itself, or even the possibility of spam from itself, very seriously. Part of this is that I have a decided memory (possibly inaccurate) that GMail basically had no abuse team and no useful abuse reporting system when it started.

    (Even now various portions of the Google empire are infamous for not responding to spam reports. Good luck getting Google Groups to deal with any of their numerous Usenet spammers, for example.)

  • GMail has made itself far too important to block. This leads to unpleasant speculation about whether GMail is deliberately trading on this fact in order to get away with a too-small abuse handling system.

The very opaqueness of Google and GMail makes the whole situation worse and makes it impossible to judge them on anything except results. And the results are not good; these days, I think I am running at least a ten to one ratio on spam from GMail versus real mail from GMail. This does not please me.

Written on 03 April 2008.
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Last modified: Thu Apr 3 23:14:31 2008
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