By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Spam is raging out of control

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, too, but it seems to me that the quantity of spam has increased exponentially over the past several months. What worries me is that I’m losing the ability to read through the contents of Gmail‘s spam filter to see whether anything important got caught by mistake.

Right now, I’m looking at 3,671 — whoops, 3,672 — messages trapped by the filter since last Wednesday. Even if I quickly page through them all, am I going to notice if one or two valid messages are in there?

The Gmail filter does a good job, but I’m a little frustrated. On a few occasions, I’ve noticed messages in my spam folder from e-mail addresses that are already built in to my address book. That is never supposed to happen. Am I alone in experiencing that? Am I doing something wrong?

Now up to 3,673.

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  1. Paul@01852

    I’m not a Gmail user but in other mail programs you can sort by sender or topic or any other header field. After doing this you might be able to quickly scan each column and pick out the wheat from the chaff.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Paul: The thought just occurred to me, and I did do that now. It speeded things up quite a bit.I also just tried creating some filters, but didn’t have much luck beyond “penis,” “debt consolidation” and the like. As we all know, those are usually deliberately misspelled, so I’ll only be able to eliminate a few of those.I thought I had hit the jackpot by marking for deletion anything from “MAILER-DAEMON.” But as soon as I tested it, I saw that the same phrase was buried in the header of tons of important e-mails. It’s a good thing to search for once I’m in the spam folder, but not something I can delete ahead of time.Now, here’s a thought. Does anyone know how to catch anything in Gmail that’s in Cyrillic? If I could delete those ahead of time, it would shrink my spam folder considerably. (And everyone else’s.)

  3. Neil

    Wow that’s a lot of spam. My gmail account only accumulates spam at the stately pace of about 20 per day, and gmail deletes them after 30 days, so the folder size doesn’t grow or does so only very slowly. I look through the folder maybe once a month. The false positives are rare and as long as the quantity isn’t too overwhelming it’s actually possible to appreciate some of the auto-genned names. Manuela Gallagher! Dr Benny Feliciano! Isn’t he on the Simpsons? Oh that’s Dr Nick.I don’t see any Cyrillic. Maybe you need to use a separate account for those Bulgarian Viagra orders. 🙂

  4. Anonymous

    Dan, maybe thrown some Cyrillic characters into your Spam blocker?(MS Word has them). So, if any E-Mail comes in with any of those characters, it gets booted?

  5. Steve

    I don’t get Cyrillic spam, but I get a lot of Korean and Chinese character set spam in my gmail.I am very careful about my web-clicking, and I have two different gmail addresses – one I use for commerce on the web (and for my usenet usage) and one I never use on the web. The web one gets about 10x more spam, but nothing like the thousands of messages you report.Are you getting this spam direct to your gmail account or is it being forwarded from some other account which has a more internet-visible presence?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: I’m getting it from all over. I’ve probably done the best job of protecting my NU account, and the worst job of protecting my personal (dan at dankennedy dot net) address. But everything funnels into Gmail so that I can use the spam filter.

  7. Don, American

    If there are several thousand ways to enlarge one’s penis, you’d think we would have run across one by accident by now.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Don: Have a look at this. Hilarious.

  9. michael

    For my incoming email I use, a company based in Yarmouth. They recently implemented a spam filter that has reduced the amount of spam in my junk email folder by better than 90%, and, as far as I know, it has not filtered out any good emails. It blocks messages based not on address or domain but on content, e.g., penis, viagra, cialis, etc. and the countless variations of the same. To implement a good email filtering algorithm based on content is a daunting task, but whatever they’re using seems like a pretty smart program.

  10. acf

    When I first went online, about 15 years ago, I had one email address, and fell for the scam of providing my address for all kinds of online junk. Participation in several user groups on the UseNet, with my email address showing was also a stong reason for the SPAM. I got to the point, after a couple of years, that I was receiving between 300 to 400 messages a day, all but 5 or 6 were SPAM. My first tactic was to try and create a filter to sift them out. When that didn’t work, I finally had everything sent directly to trash, but still had to page through them to look for the few personal emails I wanted. My final solution was to blow away the entire account, then be relentless in my determination to provide my primary email address only to close friends and family. I also created a couple of sub accounts that I use for situations where I am providing my address, such as my alumni association, and forums that require one to participate. If they start to accumulate too many SPAMs, I’ll just blow them away and create new ones. The result…after a couple of years, so far, so good.

  11. Steve

    Don – you didn’t just click on that link, did you? Where do you think Dan gets his spam from? AAAAAHHH! :-)Dan – what acf said. If you find one of your addresses you transfer from has really bad Signal-to-Noise, you might want to set up a separate gmail receptacle for it. Or ditch it altogether. Or is the spam coming directly into the gmail account? If so, ditch that. Thousands of Spam (Kilospam?) is way too high.

  12. Anonymous

    Dan, For about five years I’ve been blocking spam (successfully) with ChoiceMail.It works the opposite of a filter. Instead of trying the failed game of guessing what words a spammer might use, it assumes that every piece of e-mail is spam, unless (a) you’ve sent that person mail, or (b) you agree to let them in. New senders have to fill out a quick form (a challenge) to send you mail. You can add entire domains (,, etc.). Simple.

  13. Anonymous

    Danyou might be interested in this article that says Gmail spam doubled last month alone,

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