Remember 'False Positives'? I Still Hate Them

Ken-Hardin

I had to dig around in the offline Help interface for a bit before I figured out how to do it, but I got permission from our IT team this afternoon to turn off the Outlook 2003 junk mail filter.

 

I know I am alone in this, but I absolutely hate the Outlook client's Junk Mail folder. Hate it. Practically everyone else here at IT Business Edge loves it, but not me.

 

To be fair, I should say that I hate aggressive e-mail filtering that results in false positives. In my weekly review of my junk mail folder yesterday, there were 63 sequestered messages. Seven of them were legitimate mail, five of them were from IT Business Edge accounts, and one was from a research partner of ours. None of them bore any resemblance to what I would call "spam."

 

More along the lines of full disclosure: As a business, we, of course, run a spam/malware product at our e-mail gateway that smashes the flood of crap mail -- and far more importantly, e-mail-borne attacks -- that our network gets hammered with every day. If you are working at a small business that relies on your mail client for filtering, find the money for a professional product that filters out malware. It's an unavoidable cost of doing business.

 

If you are using Web-based mail (Gmail, Hotmail, et al) for business, get used to vetting those junk mails. And good luck.


 

A few years ago, false positives were broadly discussed as a key issue with spam filtering. Last year, reports that the Gmail spam filter was registering about 3 percent false positives got about zero media attention; today, I searched Google News for the strings "false positive" and spam and got a grand total of one result.

 

So, I guess it's not that big a concern for most people, or at least it's become accepted as the occasional cost of fighting spam.

 

Within the last few weeks, I have had communications with a key consultant (i.e., someone we are paying quite a bit of money) disrupted for about a week due to a spam filter on their end whacking mails from me -- not everyone from our domain, mind you, just me. I am currently having fits connecting with a potential partner overseas, and I'm pretty sure a spam filter somewhere is largely to blame.

 

Each day, I get about 15 or so spams that beat both our gateway system and Outlook and make it to my inbox. That's more than actually get shuffled off to the junk folder. So, I gotta kill the stuff anyway, and the bother of throwing away 10 or so garbage mails each day is far less daunting to me than the idea of missing two or three important ones each week.

 

Granted, not everybody will agree with me, and I certainly would not be so cavalier about turning off the Outlook client's protection if IT wasn't already zapping most of the junk for me. And even when the Outlook junk mail filter is turned off, I can still maintain a black list of senders -- poor defense against crafty spammers, I know, but then again, so is the junk mail folder.

 

In all fairness, I don't really hate Outlook's efforts at spotting spam so much as the spam itself. But I am willing to take on a little of the work of managing the problem in exchange for the peace of mind of not missing an important mail.



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