Microsoft Reports Success in War Against 'Graymail'

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft is reporting success in its campaign to reduce graymail, which are defined as email messages that fall short of being labeled as 'spam'.

Though definitions vary, most sources agree that true spam messages are sent without any permission from the recipient.

Happily, spam filtering is now keeping spam to only three percent of the messages reaching an average user's inbox, Microsoft reports. (Source:

Legitimate Messages May Be Unwanted

However, a lot of other emails, like promotional mailings, still get through. Often, the recipient has either lost interest in the messages, or is getting far more messages from the sender than originally expected.

Microsoft has dubbed such messages "graymail," while other sources sometimes refer to them as "bacon", a clever take on the idea that they are similar to spam but a little more palatable.

According to Microsoft, as many as 80 per cent of inbox messages fall into this category. Thus, guaranteeing email delivery can be incredibly expensive, especially on a mass scale.

The company says that three out of every four reports it receives about spam actually refer to graymail.

The key difference is that senders of graymail generally allow users to opt out of receiving their messages, even though this can sometimes involve a complicated process.

Because graymail is so prevalent, in November Microsoft released a series of tools to help users automate the way its Hotmail email service handles graymail.

The company now reports it has carried out more than 100 million automated actions that have reduced graymail. (Source:

Tools Include One-Click Opt-Out

One tool automates unsubscribe features by putting all messages Hotmail identifies as a newsletter into a dedicated folder.

Users can then simply check any newsletter they no longer want, click one button, and Hotmail automatically unsubscribes them.

Another tool allows users to easily set up automatic filters that will delete all messages from a particular sender.

This is handy if the sender has not provided a simple way of unsubscribing or opting out of future mailings.

A third tool allows users to automatically delete all but the latest message from a particular sender. This makes it easy to avoid building up a backlog of outdated newsletters.

The same tool can also be used to delete newsletters after a set waiting period, or to automatically archive old newsletter editions.

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