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Reporting spam can help you get less spam, but you need to use it properly, and realize just who you're reporting spam to.

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?

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.

Article C3005 - April 26, 2007 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

April 27, 2007 9:29 PM

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.

Bill Dawson
April 28, 2007 9:18 AM

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?

April 28, 2007 2:24 PM

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. :-)

May 8, 2007 12:52 PM

This is actually not quite true. Hotmail has a service for Email Marketers called Junk Mail Reporting Program ( 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.

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