business

Yahoo's false positives: When to worry

I just opened my Yahoo mail account to see two new messages. On one, the vulgar subject line included the word
Stephen Baker

I just opened my Yahoo mail account to see two new messages. On one, the vulgar subject line included the word "Viagra." The sender of the second was "Virus." I didn't open either message before deleting them. A few weeks ago, by contrast, I found in Yahoo's spam folder an important email from my agent about money coming my way. In my Gmail account, I rarely find spam in my inbox, and I have yet to find anything but spam in my spambox.

Yahoo strategists, struggling with faulty spam detection, face a nasty choice: They either pelt us with lots of spam, or they take out a big chunk of it---including a certain number of false positives. It seems they've chosen the second path. I'd say I find three false positives a month, some of them very important.

Beyond spam, the danger for Yahoo is that users and investors will assume that the company is algorithmically challenged in other areas as well, from job hunting to dating. Spam is miserable PR for a company that can ill afford it.

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