Gmail Receives Major Defence Upgrade – Will it Stop Spam for Good?

Gmail Receives Major Defence Upgrade

Gmail has always represented one of the most reliable (and credible) email service providers out there. Recent years have seen the provider superseded in terms of user privacy by professional-grade platforms like ProtonMail. While savvier internet users have been aware of Gmail’s insufficiencies when it comes to user privacy for a long time now, it was only when Apple’s change in third-party app requirements compelled Gmail to release its privacy label that its general user base really started to see the issues.

The links between Google and its email platform mean that the amount of data the platform can gather on its users is pretty high. The platform has been criticised in the past for scanning email content in order to tailor ads to its users. While users did agree to the practice in the fine print, many still saw it as an invasion of privacy – a ‘taking advantage’ that did not necessarily serve users’ best interests.

But Gmail evolved, and, most recently, it has implemented its most robust security update in history – one that utilises the very latest in AI to (apparently) revolutionise the way users are protected.

Why is Spam Still a Problem Today?

The short answer is this: the people behind spam are constantly looking for new ways to bypass filters and invade inboxes, even with additional safeguards in place. There is a huge amount of money to be made from spam, with some spammers thought to be making up to $2 million each year.

There are reliable ways to stop spam calls, texts, and emails. It requires a more proactive approach from internet users and, even now, plenty of people don’t realise the scope they have for reducing their profitability to data brokers and other malicious third parties.

Spam isn’t exactly the same problem it was, say, 20 years ago. The lay of the land has changed – and, accordingly, our ability to defend it.

What the RETVec Means for Users

RETVec stands for Resilient & Efficient Text Vectorizer. If that sounds incredibly high-tech and complex, that’s because it is.

In simple terms, the RETVec is capable of unraveling the underhanded tactics many malicious third parties use in order to get results from their spam. Existing defences were falling short of what Google terms ‘adversarial text manipulations’. These manipulations include tactics like keyword stuffing, whereby the sender of a phishing email suffuses the text with an overabundance of keywords that legitimate emails would feature – often in invisible text, which previous classification models will recognise (but human readers will miss).

But the RETVec is like the Enigma machine in its ability to equip machine learning models with the ‘smarts’ they need to understand these underhanded text manipulations and, ideally, stop them before they reach users’ inboxes.

It’s a big leap forward…potentially. Google announced at the launch of this new update that RETVec makes recognising and stopping spam 38% more effective, which is a major step forward for users.

Gmail isn’t typically considered to be a formidable foe against spam. Spam-filtering programmes like N-Able Mail Assurance offer accuracy above 99.9% when it comes to blocking spam.

For Gmail users, it may be that the coming months bring a significant drop in the number of spam emails breaking into their inboxes, but these solutions are rarely ‘one and done’. It remains to be seen whether Gmail can bill itself alongside the biggest players in email security.

Davey Winder at Forbes noted that, within days of the update’s arrival, he was starting to see more and more false positives, whereby Gmail was sending genuine, credible emails into the spam folder. He acknowledges that this may not be the case for the average user, given that many of his emails feature security-related concerns, but that it’s bound to be something of a thorn in the side for Gmail users.

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