Graymail is basically bulk Email that may have been requested at one point via an opt in but over time, interest in this type of Email has diminished and the end user eventually considers these messages as annoyances or spam. Another name for it is BACN (Or Bacon).
Wikipedia defines Graymail as having the following traits:
- Solicited. The recipient requested to receive the email message by opting in, either directly or indirectly via an automatic or non-obvious mechanism, such as supplying an email address when registering for an online shopping account. In contrast, spam email messages are generally accepted to be unsolicited.
- Legitimate. Though they may be sale notices, coupons, social updates and the like, graymail messages are sent by reputable sources who value their relationship with the recipient. They will typically include an “unsubscribe” option, with the sender honoring such requests.
- Content value. Graymail messages generally contain content that is catered to the recipient or their interests as opposed to spam email messages which are indiscriminate bulk distributions of unwanted solicitations, offers and information.
Graymail typically conforms to CAN-SPAM and CASL because the messages were solicited (at least initially) and the sender can provide evidence that the recipient did accept to receive these messages.
Graymail typically comes from legitimate organizations. The messages are spam-like in nature but at some point, the recipient did subscribe to them or agreed to receive them (and/or from partners). So over time the volume of Graymail increases while the interest in these messages generally decreases.
Why is Graymail such a big deal?
Fundamentally, Graymail is seen as spam by some people and legitimate Email by others. So most spam filtering organizations have to work for the “greater good” and will sometimes be more lenient on Graymail in order to prevent false-positives. This is the case for instance with Office365, whereas Graymail will leak through a bit more. The basic issue is false positives are more expensive in terms of opportunity loss than false-negatives and most filtering systems will err on the side of caution (i.e.: leniency).
It’s very difficult to strike a proper balance and Graymail will give the perception that somehow the filters are not doing their job. For a spam filtering company, it can give a negative perception.
Most spam filtering vendors have to tread carefully. They often have to strike a balance between SMB/Corporate customers and Service Providers. The former are less tolerant to Graymail and the latter, more so. That’s where whitelisting and quarantine mechanisms are vitally important to be able to adjust the filtering to the individuals preference.
If you’re shopping around for a spam filtering solution, you’ll need to make sure that the solution you pick has the following criteria:
– Proper false-positive (legit mail caught as spam) reporting facilities
– Proper false-negative (spam messages that aren’t caught) reporting facilities
– Good Quarantine support with adjustable quarantine lifetime
– Quarantine report/digest generation and handling
– Web-based Quarantine access with support for mobile devices
– If your organization uses Outlook, ideally some kind of Outlook plugin that provides support for all the above
– A closed feedback loop between what your users are seeing in the field and reporting, and a way for your vendor to easily monitor and take action.
– Mechanisms by which your spam filtering provider can make these adjustments for you. This makes it a lot easier for your spam filtering provider to adjust the solution for your specific needs and tolerance for Graymail.
Learning to manage Graymail is simple if you use a spam filtering solution that puts you in the drivers seat!