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Spam Rescue and Type I Errors

by Randall Craig on March 6, 2015

Filed in: Blog, Content, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Web

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Consider this scenario: you get a phone call from a key client or a distraught family member: “didn’t you get my email?”  They are clearly upset that you “ignored” them: they see evidence that they are not your priority. You are not unresponsive.  You don’t care.   Or maybe, your spam filter was doing just a bit too good a job.  Welcome to the world of Type I errors.

A Type I error is generally called a false positive:  your good email is flagged as spam, and gets filtered into your junk mail folder.  A Type II error is generally called a false negative: spam is not detected as spam, and gets through.  Because of the volume of spam, we seem to be on a cops-and-robbers treadmill of stronger spam filters, which leads to more clever spammers, which leads to even stronger spam filters, and so on and so on.

Was it a programmer that made the decision that it was better to have a clean inbox (with a bit of spam that gets through)?  Or maybe a marketer who decided that the effectiveness of their spam control program was best evidenced by a mostly clean inbox?  In both cases, this “no-spam inbox” policy made an inherently dangerous assumption: that it was better to miss a few emails (because they were caught by the spam filter) than delete a few spams from your inbox.  This assumption may not be right for you.

This week’s action plan: This week, calendarize a weekly review of your junk mail folder.  Rescuing non-spam email from the junk mail folder will make a dramatic difference…  to the person who sent the email.  If you are really keen, ask your technology department if they are blocking so-called spam at the network edge, and if so, how you might periodically review anything that is addressed to you.

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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