The Growing Issue of Spam for Outlook.com Personal Accounts
In the past couple of months, I’ve seen an uptick of spam coming through my outlook.com account that I haven’t seen since the service was relaunched in 2012. Even worse, it appears their filtering features are not working as intended, leading to an increase that is annoying users near and far who rely on the service. After unsuccessful attempts to resolve the issue with support, I figure it’s time to go public with the concerns in hopes Microsoft might actually spend some time on the issue.
So, these are your run-of-the-mill spam emails. They often have large header text that links outbound and an image. These aren’t super comprehensive phishing attempts. Common themes include:
- Tinnitus Medication
- Life Insurance
- Keto Weight Loss Systems, Diet Pills, Etc.
- Gutter Protection
- Lottery Scams
- Roundup Lawsuits
- Senior Discounts
As you can imagine, I would expect a traditional spam filter to generally handle these kinds of emails, and while there are plenty of ways spammers can go around typical word filters, this is fairly patterned behavior. Especially when they are coming from the same primary domains, just different sub-domains, which now brings me to the next issue which falls under the filtering features.
The Flawed Filtering System
The first issue, and probably the largest I’ve observed comes from the way Outlook.com is filtering emails. At times, it appears Microsoft is not even honoring the blocklist and just delivers the email to my inbox anyway. The domains these emails come from include:
Claimed Email Domains
These emails are often sent from subdomains of the above domains, or you will find multiples of these domains in a single email header such as one for the from, one from the reply to, and one for the bounceback notification. Microsoft’s own documentation suggests the domain alone in your blocklist should be sufficient, but the emails continue to come in. Reviewing the 50 or so headers I’ve taken the time to review, the majority of these emails seem to come from one particular web host out of Canada.
The Reporting System
The second issue I see has to do with the reporting system. For the longest time, I figured when I clicked the Junk option in Outlook.com and chose Junk or Block, that it would actually send some kind of metric to the team that handles spam control for the Outlook.com service, but it appears to do nothing more than place it in my settings.
To actually report a spam email in Outlook.com, you have to right-click an email in your inbox to open the context menu, navigate to Security Options, and then click Report Abuse. Once you’ve done that, a form appears asking you to categorize the email, place a comment, and confirm you understand this will send the contents of the email to Microsoft for analysis.
While you get a nice confirmation of your report, these reports seem to go to a single inbox at Microsoft corporate which ironically, blocks some of them because they were identified as spam. Which, is great that they identified that, but then why did it hit my inbox?
The Decaying Customer Support Experience
The third and final issue I see going on has to do with the Microsoft Support service. It appears that Microsoft’s support surrounding the issues for consumers often uses canned responses about using the blocklist and rules to accomplish eliminating your spam problem. Even if you say it was already in the blocklist, then just repeat themselves or say to use rules. They are not escalating the concerns regarding non-functional components of the service, and eventually, you just close the ticket out of frustration.
Looking at the UserVoice for Outlook.com, accessible from the Feedback button, in trending feedback, there are currently over 4200+ votes for “Blocked Email Selected Not Being Blocked” which tells me the issue is far from isolated.
This experience is not new to Microsoft. In fact, one of my biggest frustrations with Microsoft is their poor customer service experience on the first and second tiers of technical support both for consumers and businesses. They appear to be outsourced, with KPI’s focused on closure and rapid resolution so much so that they don’t actually attempt to resolve the issue unless you start getting frustrated with them, and even then, it’s a toss whether they properly respond or escalate. At this point, I feel an AI chatbot would give me the same level of poor service.
As much as I appreciate and often champion Microsoft technologies to friends, coworkers, and businesses, this issue (and the support experience) are harming the long-term. Consumer experience often influences business interest, and if Microsoft continues to degrade the consumer experience and the reliability of their services or features, then how can you empower every person and every organization to achieve more?