Gmail’s Spam Feedback Loop: SendGrid’s First-hand Experience


Posted on

Dear Gmail Team,

Gmail will be 10 years old next month. Congrats! I love the innovations you’ve made over the past decade. Thanks to you, my email is more useful and accessible than it ever was. I’m delighted by the Gmail feedback loop, one of those behind the scenes innovations that regular users won’t notice. Since I am responsible for keeping SendGrid’s email stream clean, I am especially grateful for the helpful data that’s now available to trustworthy email service providers. SendGrid’s anti-spam team has been making effective use of the spam feedback you share. It identifies spammers that other spam detection systems miss.

For privacy and security reasons, your Gmail feedback loop is structurally different from traditional FBLs. Our engineers needed to make some significant changes to our systems to accommodate your integration requirements. That took a lot of work, but we made a bet that the results would be worth the effort—and they were.

Your feedback loop corrected a large blind spot. Gmail has become a center of gravity for email—we send more messages to Gmail than to any other mailbox provider or ISP. SendGrid processes over 11 billion email messages a month, and about 35% of that traffic, almost 4 billion messages a month, are addressed to Gmail or Google Apps recipients. Over the past three years we put tools, people and processes in place to identify and remove spam from our system, but we had no convenient, objective way to confirm which of our customers were sending unwanted mail to Gmail users. Now we can.

How has it been performing?

SendGrid’s anti-spam team reviewed the behavior of hundreds of customers since we began receiving your automated reports in October 2013. Every single one of your alerts was worth investigating, and they continue to help us prioritize our anti-spam work.

The spam incidents fall into three general categories:

  1. First degree spammers: Someone knowingly violated our terms of service and sent spam intentionally. Those, we have banned.
  2. Aggressive marketers: Legitimate business that need to make changes to their sending practices (usually by sending email less frequently, or targeting their messages better to make them more relevant). Those, we have educated.
  3. Victims: Occasionally, a customer’s systems are exploited by a bad actor who abused a web form, a vulnerable CMS or a stolen password to send spam. We have helped those victims address their vulnerabilities.

Bottom line, our signal to noise ratio improves each time we take action on your feedback. Our service quality rises when we reduce the amount of unwanted mail. That’s good for SendGrid’s customers and the email ecosystem at large.

Trust is the foundation of the email ecosystem, and communication is necessary for trust. Congratulations for building v1 of a feedback mechanism that a) abides by Google’s strict privacy requirements, and b) systematically communicates with the ESP community in a scalable way. We’re using it to reduce the flow of unwanted mail. Email’s better when it’s wanted.

Sincerely,
Paul Kincaid-Smith
VP of Delivery
SendGrid


Paul Kincaid-Smith is SendGrid's VP of Delivery. He helps make email awesome by innovating with "the cool kids" in the technology community. Learn more on LinkedIn, and drop him a line on Twitter.

Paul Kincaid-Smith on Twitter
Have thoughts on this post?
Chat with us about it on Twitter and Google+