Google says spammers are giving up

Google's chief spamfighter says that he's seeing less spam email coming into Google Mail and speculates that spammers are giving up on bulk spam because of the efficacy of filters; he predicts an enormous rise in quasi-spam from companies that you did business with once or twice and now feel entitled to email you all the time. I get craploads of this stuff myself -- PR releases (any PR person who puts me on a mailing list goes straight into my killfile, forever), circulars from some etailer I bought something from eight years ago, even monthly newsletters from a clinical massage place in Toronto I saw for a sore shoulder, once, in 1988. Unsubcribing to this stuff is time-consuming and only works about a third of the time, in my experience.

Of course, I also get thousands of spams a day (most of which are successfully repelled by greylisting, leaving only a thousand or so that get through to my mailer, which filters all but a couple hundred).

Google won't disclose numbers, but the company says that spam attempts, as a percentage of e-mail that's transmitted through its Gmail system, have waned over the last year. That could indicate that some spammers have gotten discouraged and have stopped trying to get through Google’s spam filters.


  1. Email is a very degraded form of communication useful only for grunts and primitive signals (complex communications invariably becomes crossed somehow). And then there is the damnable spam always there in the in-box to remind you of your manly, um, shorcomings. Why isn’t there breast enlargement spam, or spam for ebony salt shakers? I have to wonder if the spam I receive demonstrates the limited imagination of spammers, or whether I have somehow been targeted? So much about the internet remains, like my mother, a total mystery.

  2. The most astonishing thing about spam to me is that the success of pump-and-dump scams means that there are actually people in the world willing to buy thousands of dollars of stock on the advice of an unsolicited email saying “th1ss s+0 ck is ready to EXPLODE!!!!”

  3. The reason that there is so much less spam is one of the biggest spammers was jailed earlier this year. I forgot his name, but once he was arrested, my thousands of spams a day dropped considerably.

  4. They haven’t given up. They’ve gone web 2.0. On one forum I frequent I keep getting a trickle of 419 emails from all over west Africa. And the only messages I ever get on myspace are porn spam

  5. Odd. I’ve been seeing a lot more spam in the last week or so – obvious spam that really should have been picked up by Gmail’s filter.

  6. “Odd. I’ve been seeing a lot more spam in the last week or so – obvious spam that really should have been picked up by Gmail’s filter.”


    I’ve felt at times that my GMail acct must be hosted on some long forgotten server that never gets updated spam profiles!

    That said, they certainly do catch a lot of spam as well.

  7. This claim is nonsense.

    Even novice anti-spammers know that there are always
    marked fluctuations in the quantity (and origin, and character) of spam as measured at any one point on the Internet. In order to assess the overall trend, many measurements are needed, taken at a sufficiently-diverse
    set of points — i.e., different domains, different networks, different countries, different mail systems.

    The worldwide trend in spam is clearly up, with debate over just what numeric value to assign to “up”, in part
    because it constitutes such a high percentage of mail
    that it may be reaching saturation. (Luckily, well-known,
    easily-implemented techniques using open-source
    software and free databases will suffice to block 95%
    of it with very little effort or cost. That’s almost
    always “good enough”, but in instances where it’s not,
    refinement of those same techniques makes it possible
    to go to 98-99% without too much trouble.)

    What is down — and markedly so — is the apparent effort that Google is putting into controlling (a) spam outbound from its own servers (b) spam referencing web sites it is hosting and (c) spammer dropboxes on its freemail service. As a result of
    this failure, Google is increasingly finding itself
    compared to Hotmail and Yahoo — the
    poster children for utter incompetence in running mail systems. (Hotmail’s abuse desk is legendary for their cluelessness, including inability to recognize their own IP address ranges even when pointed out to them.)

    And of course, one of the consequences of this is that Google is now contributing to the problem.

  8. The reason is quite simple. Spammers keep track of how many people click on their e-mails, and which domains they are from. Spammers realize that people using Gmail are pretty unlikely to click on their e-mails because of filters and such. They also realize that Gmail users are much more likely to report abuse, which is what spammers do not want. Spammers are actually better off just filtering out all e-mail addresses

    I think it would be interesting if they compared the spam levels for people who actually have addresses against people with Google for domains.

  9. @RSK – I came in here to say exactly that. Spam comes in waves. (What a delightful mental image!) I’ve been a semi-avid spam fighter for years now, and seriously doubt any conclusion based upon a few month’s data. It’ll surge again soon, I’m sure.

    I wish server-side email address verification was more reliable. (SMTP based verify) I had it on for a while and it kept my server from even receiving almost all spams, but it also kept my own brother and many friends from being able to email me. Those could be fixed with whitelisting, but it spoke to a more fundamental problem with the strategy. (What of business contacts that aren’t sending spam but are sending from a misconfigured mail server?)

  10. I have seen a marked reduction in the penile enlargement/overseas drugs/’this stock is hot’ spam, with the exception of my Yahoo address which is apparently targeted by hordes of spammers absolutely salivating to buy some imaginary timeshare I don’t own.

    There has been a similarly marked increase, both in volume and variety, of variations of the Nigerian scam, bogus lottery winnings, eBay and PayPal phishing, work at home, make gazillions off of the internet, etc. etc. emails; more of the phishing/spoofing ilk than of direct sales pitches.

    I hope everyone is as diligent as I am in forwarding the spoof emails to the true websites’ security mailboxes. They are the easiest to track down, I think, and the legitimate businesses are finally actively pursuing the malefactors.

    I could ramble on ad nauseum, but I need to claim my winnings in a UK lotto I’ve been awarded without even having to enter, and a widow in communist China needs my help in transferring funds from her late husband’s estate.

  11. I’ve had the same email address since 1996 — and I have a forward running for an older address that dates back to 1991.

  12. “They haven’t given up. They’ve gone web 2.0.”

    I agree with LINDZ69.

    There are too many spam opportunities on too many sites like MySpace and YouTube to keep these leaches happy. Of course, the other ideas about avoiding gmail because it’s diligent are solid too.

    I think that it’s a good thing to be considering these differences when discussing the quality of service for these sites. Facebook vs. MySpace would yield Facebook as the winner, Gmail vs. Hotmail is no question either.

    Now I just can’t figure out why YouTube is ‘better’ than Vimeo…except for the same ways that MySpace is ‘better’ than Facebook: the mass appeal.

  13. My ISP just sent a note today about “a sudden and severe increase in SPAM volume after the Thanksgiving weekend”. At my work spam is up by around 1,000% over a year ago. Whether it’s caught or not, it’s a significant drain on resources. So I guess your mileage may vary.

    You’re right about the increase in “quasi-spam”, though. I get DOZENS of these “dear valued customer” turds a week now. For entertainment I like to write back to an address I know will read it with suggestions for ways it would be fun to watch their children die or some such.

  14. I’ve had my main e-mail address for fifteen years now.

    RSK, DCulberson, you’re saying that (1.) spam comes in waves, and (2.) Google isn’t aware of it?

  15. No, Gmail’s spam filter is just missing a lot more of it.

    For some reason, it absolutely *refuses* to learn that any email mentioning a lottery or telling me that I won something is ALWAYS spam, no matter how many thousands of times I report them as spam. It also misses lots of 419-style scams from countries other than Nigeria.

  16. They must be making money as I was spammed by snail mail yesterday. The letter came from Spain with a .85 euro stamp on it and a form for my bank information which I need to fax to them so I can collect the 580k euros I won from a ticket I never bought.

  17. Dirtydan, I got the same letter — and to my home address, which I only use with Amazon, the Inland Revenue and my insurer. Everything else goes to the PO Box.

  18. @Teresa, yes, that’s pretty much what I’m saying.

    Trying to measure spam globally is difficult,
    because the picture as seen from any one measurement
    point (even a big one like Google) is often markedly
    different than that seen from other points. Spammers
    may target particular countries, domains, networks,
    groups of end users, mail software or combinations;
    they may also avoid them. They may “take a break”
    and work on new methods, then deploy them in
    test mode or full production. The impact of all this is
    that it’s very common for site A to report a significant
    increase in spam while site B reports just the opposite.
    Extrapolate to the scale of the Internet and it’s a
    difficult measurement problem.

    Add to this another factor: spammers don’t just spam. Like any successful “business”, they diversify.
    They’re into spyware, adware, phishing, domain kiting,
    domain typosquatting, junk faxing, spit, spim, identity
    theft — and a host of related areas. So even if a
    sufficiently diverse set of measurements indicates, let’s say, that “spammer X is sending less spam” this doesn’t
    mean that they’re not busy. They’re most likely just engaged in some other form of abuse at the moment.

    And that’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: we are only at the beginning of the spam problem. It’s poised to get worse — much, much worse. Spammers have demonstrated the ability to innovate on an as-needed basis, and to rapidly deploy those innovations in production. What appears to be coming is much worse than what we’ve seen to date.

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