Google Spam Folder

Google released a very basic but helpful tool today: a “Why is this spam?” answer box at the top of each e-mail placed in your spam folder.

Google is fairly good at parsing e-mails in your inbox, deciding if they are worthwhile, and sweeping them into the spam folder if not. But in this age of “big data,” even the e-mail politely suggesting you buy male-enhancement drugs may have some interesting security-related information for you. The feature is simple. Go to your spam box and open an e-mail (Google disables photos and links that can be potentially harmful). Under the “to-from” field you’ll find Google’s quick explanation of why this message got the boot.

The feature includes a “learn more” button if you want a deeper dive into what Google means by, “This message looks like other messages that were bad.” You can check out the website of potential spam messages here.

As simple as this is, it’s needed education. The other day while on the train, I overheard the couple behind me talking about spam e-mails. One of them referenced phishing attacks, which is when a cyber criminal attempts to obtain personal information about you by masquerading as a trusted website (like a bank), or otherwise trick you into giving up your own private information. While it’s important to remind people that this exists, I was surprised when the other passenger replied, “What’s a phishing scam?”

The industry talks about coding vulnerabilities, back doors, and other problems, but often human error is our own worst enemy. Larger scale, but smaller urgency problems such as spam pass under the radar. Having the simple answer to, “Why is this spam?” gives people more armor to protect themselves from, well, themselves.