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A picture showing a Pinterest notification as a false positive.

Is Google's Gmail and Apps Spam Algorithm a Tactical Weapon?

We're way past the days when Google's "do no evil" values actually meant anything in the corporate world. One of the things I used to be very proud of was the very small number of "false positives" present in Gmail and Google Apps, a great selling point for people moving from hotmail or businesses moving from Exchange and their miasma of badly written, completely disconnected spam detection systems. But lately, wow... I have discovered a ton of legitimate emails in my Spam folder. And my own pattern detection skills (those of the paranoid type) began to alert me to the possibility that something was amiss.

Is this problem (a significant one, in my opinion) the result of a sudden new wave of phishing or Nigerian scammers? Or is it actually a strategic move by Google, Inc. to deliberately — some might say evilly — whitewash our inboxes of potential competitors? Here's a short list:

  1. Pinterest
  2. FourSquare
  3. LinkedIn
  4. HootSuite

Literally all 50 of the messages I received that were marked as spam in the last month were 100% legit. A case can be made that these are not really competitors, but with Google's All-In-On-Google-Plus strategy, I'm not so sure.

I want to believe this is just an error — just an unintended consequence of the Herculean task faced by Google engineers to filter out bad email from good. They have been real heroes for many users for years; we should forgive this small (?) failure.

Still, I shudder to think of the sheer scale of the unintended consequences. In this day of information overload, it makes sense to turn off Pinterest notifications anyway, so it's no big deal if people (like me) just think their pins were really boring. But what if important emails are caught in the crossfire? How many meetings were missed, sales lost, flirts and observations never found, questions never answered?

I guess we can just ask any of those other spam systems that have been abusing non-spam for years.

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