Sloppy NYTimes illustration

by Eszter Hargittai on October 2, 2006

.. or where we confirm that I am, on occasion, obsessive about some things. The New York Times has a short piece about GMail’s increasing ability to avoid false positives when it comes to legitimate commercial email requested by the user.

What caught my eye was the accompanying illustration (on the left in this image below).

Sloppy illustration

That Inbox screenshot is not from a GMail account. GMail calls spam “Spam” not “Bulk” as per the screen capture on the right. A commenter on my Flickr stream noted that the illustration they put up comes from Yahoo! Mail. Hah. How hard would it have been to feature the matching Inbox?



Luis Villa 10.03.06 at 12:24 am

What is much sloppier is that the subject is ‘Google learns how to spot spam’ when the data prove merely that ‘Google rejects fewer false mails’. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking that Google has just lowered all their standards, resulting in fewer false positives, but also a lot more junk in my inbox. But hey, the study was sponsored by a borderline spammer, so they only tell us about 1/2 of the story, and the NYT can’t/won’t call them out on it.


lalala 10.03.06 at 12:32 am

Riding my current hobbyhorse even though it’s only marginally on topic: You know who has the worst vulnerability to spam of any email I’ve had? Dartmouth freaking College, that’s who. They have their own email system called “blitzmail” (they seriously say things like “I’ll blitz you”), and I have never gotten so much spam – before I’d ever logged onto the account it had accumulated over 100 spam messages. The relevance to gmail is that now I forward my Dartmouth mail to my gmail account and gmail catches most of the spam, though since I added the Dartmouth account to the gmail one I do get the occasional spam leaking through.

Interestingly, the proofpoint spam filtering message I get daily from Princeton sometimes goes into my gmail spam folder and sometimes to my inbox. Don’t know what that’s about.


Eszter 10.03.06 at 12:45 am

Luis – you’re definitely right that the article in general is pretty sloppy about the title and what it ends up reporting on.

Lalala – I know who you are.:) That’s crazy about an inbox full of spam without ever using the address. You know it’s the system in that case. What bogus. I agree with you that a good approach is to have it all go into GMail. It’s been doing a reasonable job filtering out spam and I feel good about the “Report spam” button. I keep hoping the system’s really learning when we use it. Maybe that’s naive, but for now I buy it.


lalala 10.03.06 at 12:48 am

Darn, and I was trying so hard to hide my identity!


abb1 10.03.06 at 2:25 am

…I feel good about the “Report spam” button. I keep hoping the system’s really learning when we use it.

I don’t think it does anything other than moving the email into Spam.

I’ve been getting the same spam message for months (telling me to buy some stock), done “Report spam” a million times and it still goes to my inbox.

Also there is a real notification message I recieve that gmail identifies as spam, and no matter how many times I click “Not Spam” it still gets trashed. I even created a special filter for this message, but it doesn’t help – it goes to the Spam folder and nowhere else.


CKR 10.03.06 at 10:42 am

Google, Yahoo, they’re all the internets, aren’t they?

1) The New York Times still doesn’t “get” electronic media.

2) They don’t care about accuracy. You can see Narva from Sillamäe, even though the maps say otherwise. They corrected that one, but they left the rest of an almost totally inaccurate article to stand. Responses from the ombudsman? You jest!

Thank you for allowing me to vent on my pet peeve.


KCinDC 10.03.06 at 11:08 am

You might think that the fact that I’ve done “Report Spam” for every single Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, or other non-Latin message that’s ever found its way into my Gmail inbox would cause it to get the idea, but you’d be wrong.

You might also think that messages from Mariam Abacha would be identified as spam.


mds 10.03.06 at 11:42 am

Clearly, this incorrect graphic at the Times definitively proves that the Foley scandal was manufactured by the liberal media, and we have discredited all evidence from any source that involves the Internet.


Kenny Easwaran 10.03.06 at 12:02 pm

I thought this was funny because I’m pretty sure that I had never gotten a false positive until a day or so before this story, when I was trying to buy tickets for the SF Symphony.


Doug K 10.03.06 at 12:11 pm

as an aside, I find Yahoo has been quite competent at both detecting real spam and letting through the legitimate commercial stuff, not more than one error in hundreds of mails. I don’t use Gmail as heavily for historical reasons, also because its interface is woefully slow over dialup (a different story). Gmail hasn’t made a mistake yet but I’m sure it’s just a question of volume.


Barry 10.03.06 at 12:15 pm

I’ve also never discovered a false positive from Yahoo!


Tom Lynch 10.03.06 at 4:51 pm

Probably best interpreted as yet another example of how the images accompanying news articles have shifted their purpose. They used to (be intended to) inform you about reality, now just as often they’re merely colour plate illustrations for the fiction next to them.


anonymous 10.03.06 at 6:33 pm

My favorite NYT mis-caption was when it
described a huge protest in front of the
White House. But … the Capitol Dome was
the obvious focus of the picture.

It appeared that no one at the NYT ever
actually bothered to physically visit
Washington D. C. to ensure the reliability
of their editing.


lisa 10.03.06 at 10:10 pm

Nice spotting Eszter – what an unforgivable stuffup.

I find Gmail does an acceptable job of spotting the spam for me. I think got a false positive in gmail once or twice, but they were mass emails (from a company at a conference or whatever) and probably had been flagged by a significant number of others as spam.

A possible improvement could be to provide a column with the confidence percentage Gmail’s calculated to classify it as spam — and then allow users to configure what confidence level should have the email delivered to the spam folder instead of the inbox.


John Faughnan 10.04.06 at 12:34 pm

GMail’s spam filtering and me:

Blacklists, oddly enough, are back. Also, never use Gmail’s spam marker on mail you’re redirected to Gmail from another account.

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