Oh, those spam filters

Critics of aggressive spam filtering have long argued that losing or seriously delaying even one piece of important business e-mail — the dreaded false positive — is an unacceptable price for getting back the minutes we spend fumigating our in-boxes every day.

The equation for network executives, business managers, human resources directors and corporate lawyers can be more complicated, of course. But for the end user the issue boils down to this: you can’t replace a minor annoyance with a major annoyance and call the change progress.

The buzz has bought this line of reasoning and as a result has cast a suspicious eye on the never-ending parade of vendors marching through here with filtering schemes. All claim to minimise false positives and some — the few, the proud, the full of it — claim to eliminate the risk altogether.

Which led to my putting this question to executives from Group Technologies, a German company that’s tried to make a splash in the US with iQ.Suite, a set of e-mail security and management applications that includes a spam filter: has spam gotten so unbearable that the spectre of false positives is no longer the bogeyman — the deal breaker — for companies that might otherwise start filtering?

The Group Technologies executives couldn’t agree with that proposition fast enough. Absolutely, positively on the mark, they said. Whatever reservations false positives had once created in the minds of network executives have been swamped by the sheer enormity of the spam wave.

I left the meeting not only believing that Group is indeed getting this type of feedback from customers, but wondering if it might be time for me to re-evaluate my own headstrong opposition to content filters. Maybe it’s wise to give up that position and stake out a more moderate one that recognises the old saw about desperate times requiring desperate measures. (Exhibit A: our relatively small company received 1.5 million e-mail messages in April, of which roughly 85 per cent were spam.)

Our IT director tells us they’re sifting through various options in search of an answer that will stem the spam without cutting off our noses.

In the meantime, the bogeyman lives.

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