GMail’s Spam Filter is Faltering

Google has long been lauded for its superior spam filtering. GMail users rarely see spam in their inboxes and hardly ever have to think about their spam folder, in fact Gmail keeps it hidden by default. That was just fine with most users because the spam filter was so good, the chances of legit emails being flagged as spam were slim to none.

Not anymore.

Google recently updated GMail and, since then, users have been reporting a high incidence of legit emails not making it to them. Upon digging up the spam folder and looking through it, those legit emails were found. I can verify this. I’ve been a GMail user for years and today for the first time found two legit emails in my spam folder. Why is this happening? It appears Google tweaked their algorithm and made it more aggressive – perhaps a bit too much so.

It’s important to note that much of the false positives are legitimate bulk emails such as newsletters the recipients have opted into, order confirmations and update notifications. What does this mean if your company sends out these kinds of emails? Set up test accounts on GMail if you haven’t already and send your emails to them. If they get flagged as spam, contact your ISP or email provider and have them contact Google with a complaint.

Users, at least for now, had better get used to checking their spam folders everyday. A hassle? Yes, but a much more tolerable one than having an inbox full of spam. Still, let’s hope Google tweaks their filters again and finds some middle ground.

Written by Sue Walsh


  1. Cathy Tess · July 13, 2012

    I’ve also noticed this. The latest was an email about discounts from a company I do business with. I have been getting dozens of emails a month from them and they are quite legit. Probably the discount thing got the false positive flag but still it was very unpleasant to miss this email and to have to dig it in the Spam folder!

  2. patti · July 23, 2012

    It is not just trivial solicitations that one might want to receive that are being filtered. ALL my vrbo inquiries for my rental property were sent to spam this month. That is the equivalent of thousands of dollars of revenue for me erased by Google. Luckily I was finally alerted by a frustrated potential renter who had my phone number from a previous stay but: this is an unacceptable change without warning. Was Google’s alert that they were drastically changing the parameters of users email accounts sent out after the change and filtered out as spam???

  3. Marnel Black · July 28, 2012

    It is an inconvenience, I know. But if I will tolerate an error, I would rather than companies err towards the side of caution.

    I understand the potential loss of revenue due to false positives. But if we make it a habit to look into our spam folder for legit emails, it would pose to be less of a problem.

    Think of it this way. This about the hassle and time spend deleting spam over the hassle and time spent browsing through the subject lines for legit emails in the spam folder. Certainly, the latter is still preferable. Don’t you agree?

  4. John Bollinger · September 5, 2012

    it seems to me that is does not make any difference in your two scenarios. I either have to scroll though the inbox and avoid spam or scroll through the junk folder to find legitimate mail. They need to fine tune their filters to get it right.

  5. David Stevenson · October 16, 2012

    In the last few weeks the incidence of spam to the @googlemail account has increased to 7 or 8 a day. Setting up filters that reject “the business lady” s and EuroDice has no effect whatsoever. I am about to abandon the address

  6. Shanna Schudda · November 7, 2012

    I am having the opposite problem; I am now getting more than 50 Spam emails showing. For the last several years, I typically got 2-5 / day, if any, but last
    week I started getting 35-60 / day ! I have changed my Spam/Junk Mail settings each day, but still getting them. They are not companies I have ever contacted and I do not open the emails ever; I delete them immediately. This is very annoying and I would love to know how to make it stop; please let me know if you have any suggestions.

  7. Deverill · November 9, 2012

    I am like you, Shanna. As far as I know there are zero false “this is spam”s but the spam that gets through is increasing. Not as many as you… wow, 60/day? Anyway, make sure you report the spams and not just delete them so Google can adjust the algorithms accordingly. Maybe everyone has just quit reporting and the clever spammers find things that slip through and never get reported.

  8. SS · December 27, 2012

    To Marnel Black (and Google Mail):

    I think you’re missing the point. For several years I received trade notifications and statements from my broker at the same email address. They stop showing up in my inbox.

    How am I to know that Google has started sending those legitimate emails to Spam?
    By searching thru a Spam folder that has hundreds of true Spam emails?

    It would be like the post office not putting some bills/important-stuff in your mailbox, keeping them, instead, at the post office, burning them after 30 days, and not telling you about any of that mail…
    But then expecting you to show up and check through hundreds of junk mailings to see if there is one or two important letters you may wish to not have burned.

    That doesn’t make any sense and defeats the purpose of having a Spam folder.

  9. tmech · January 1, 2013

    Well I think I have had enough of Gmail and it’s ridiculous amount of spam! It doesn’t matter how much you report it, they absolutely do nothing about it! Its just about laughable anymore and has become tediously obsolete! What a pain and waste of time to unsubscribe from total garbage

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