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What do the "Report and Delete" or "This is Spam" buttons do?

When you have junk/spam in Hotmail, & you click “Report & Delete”,
does Hotmail really report it?

Yes and no.

The intent behind that button is to reduce the amount of junk mail you might
get in the future. However I’m guessing that it’s not doing what you think it
is.

The question is who’s doing the reporting, and who’s getting the report?

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If there’s a “Report & Delete” button on your Hotmail it’s there for
you to report the spam to Hotmail.

And that’s as far as the report goes.

(This actually applies to all the services – GMail, Yahoo and so on. In
fact, I’m not seeing a “Report & Delete” button on my Hotmail account, but
the same principals apply with the “Junk” button, “Report Spam” button or
anything else that allows you to indicate that a particular message is, in your
opinion, spam.)

Hotmail doesn’t report it to someone else, because there’s no “someone else”
to report it too. Junk mail comes from many different places, and spammers
typically do an excellent job of hiding. That’s one of the reasons that junk
mail is so incredibly difficult to stop.

“When used properly that ‘This is Spam’ button can help
your mail provider more accurately block incoming spam.”

So if the report only goes as far as Hotmail, what good is it?

The intent is that is allows Hotmail to adjust its own spam filters. If many
people report a particular type of email as spam, then in theory Hotmail can
use that information to say “if I see email that looks like this in the future,
since so many people think it’s spam, I’ll mark it as spam to begin with for
everyone”.

Sometimes that means the mail will be redirected to your spam folder.
Sometimes that means that you’ll never see the mail at all.

When used properly that “This is Spam” button can help your mail provider
more accurately block incoming spam.

But that’s all. It doesn’t do anything about the spammers themselves, or
stopping them from trying to spam in the first place.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on a pet peeve of mine, and a problem
that many legitimate mailing list providers face every day. It’s that part
about “when used properly”.

As you know, I publish a weekly newsletter. As I’ve written about before small
handful of people mistakenly click on
the “Report as Spam” button
each week. In some cases it’s an honest
mistake, as the “Spam” button might be too close to the “Delete” button and
people can miss. In other cases it’s a mistake of understanding – the “Spam”
button is not the correct way to unsubscribe from a newsletter that you
explicitly signed up for.

The problem, as you can see from the discussion above about how the “Spam”
button works, is that a few people calling legitimate mail spam by mistake can
cause the email service to think that it must be spam for everyone. As a
result, other people using the same mail service could stop getting the email
they actually asked for, email they don’t consider spam at all, and email they
actually want.

So use the “Spam” button if you like, but use it carefully, and
know that all you’re doing is telling your mail provider, like HotMail, that
you think a message should be considered spam for everyone.

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4 comments on “What do the "Report and Delete" or "This is Spam" buttons do?”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Gmail’s filter individually trainable? i.e. things you reported spam are immediately blocked from your account.

    Reply
  2. I get ads from some watch companies, I guess because I was researching watches a couple of years ago. Same thing with interest rates. I mark them as spam, but they keep coming back.
    How do I stop these things?

    Reply
  3. As Leo pointed out, the “spam” button doesn’t automatically unsubscribe you, automatically block mail from that sender, or create an exclusion rule based on that e-mail. So marking something as spam doesn’t stop you from getting spams from that same spammer or similar types of spam from other spammers. It just puts it in a “reported as spam” pool that your mail provider can use for reference in its spam blocking efforts.

    If you want off of a mailing list you signed up for, like Leo’s… unsubscribe.

    If you’re getting unsolicited messages, create a filter that uses either the sender’s e-mail address (if they use the same one regularly) or a key phrase they use in their mail regularly (such as “interest rates” or “pre-approved”) to catch the mail and toss it in your junk folder instead of getting into your main mailbox.

    Perhaps Leo’s next article should be about setting up filters in Hotmail. 🙂

    Reply
  4. This is actually not quite true. Hotmail has a service for Email Marketers called Junk Mail Reporting Program (http://postmaster.live.com/Services.aspx#JMRPP). Every person that clicks “This is Spam” on an email gets sent to me so I can remove users from our list. We have an opt in list and you would be amazed how many people click “This is Spam” when they asked to receive it.

    Reply

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