What happens to mail you mark as spam?

This blog post hasn’t spun out of any particular instance, but I sometimes get the feeling that clicking the “Mark as SPAM” button in a mail client isn’t completely understood by everyone, which isn’t surprising as everything that follows is what could happen rather than what actually does happen. These scenarios are up to a combination of sending domain and receiving domain policies to bring into force. The take-home message should be to not mark legitimate emails as SPAM. If it’s a mailing list, then unsubscribe; if it’s a hot email thread involving your co-workers, create an inbox rule to mute the thread; if it’s incessant “shared” emails from a relative ask them to stop!

Without further ado, this is what could happen if you mark an email as SPAM:

The email gets deleted in your mailbox

The starter for 10; there’s little point in you marking an email as SPAM if it didn’t get removed from your INBOX. I’m sure many people have clicking the SPAM button and the Delete button as equivalent actions. One particularly nasty UI decision of a web based mail client once required a single click to mark an email as spam, but two to delete the email. Of course people took the path of less resistance and clicked the SPAM button rather than the delete button, which wasn’t great because of the scenarios that follow.

The sending domain/server gets blocked or similar emails to other recipients get emails sent to junk

One person’s SPAM is another person’s genuine enhancement pills newsletter. OK, an email advertising stamina enhancing drugs is perhaps a silly example, but if you’re getting regular emails from a mailing list, you may be doing a disservice to other subscribers who want to receive these emails when you mark them as SPAM. Some mail providers handle this better than others, but there is a risk that if you mark an email as spam when it isn’t, other’s will not receive the email into their INBOX.

Postmaster may get a copy of your email

This is probably the least known aspect of SPAM management. When you mark an email as such, the sending domain potentially has the ability to request information about the spam message, including the full message’s contents. You will have to read the T&Cs of your mail provider, but I wouldn’t be surprised if yours has a clause saying that mail you marked as SPAM has different privacy levels as your legitimate mail.

How does this forwarding back to the sending domain happen? This varies based on receiving domain. Using Microsoft as an example of how you can do it, they have a Junk Mail Reporting Program (JMRP) where you can enroll your sending servers. Any email marked as spam that was sent from these servers is sent a copy to a configurable email address.

Now that the sending server has a copy of the “SPAM”, how is it analyzed? I’ll leave that to your imagination, but not every company has the ability to use just artificial intelligence. Some human interaction may be involved.

Conclusion

Don’t mark genuine email as SPAM! It’s in everyone’s interest.

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