Good Communication in the Digital Age: Spam, Junk and You.

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Email is an almost magical service that facilitates communication near instantaneously not only between friends, colleagues and family but also as a receipt mechanism for ecommerce and other business needs.

When you miss an email from a friend it can be inconvenient, when you don’t receive proof of purchase or account dependant information it can make a huge difference for both customer and supplier.

While I could get into the excruciating details of SMTP, POP servers and webmail this post will be pretty high level and should help you get a better understanding of how your email works, what can go wrong and, where possible, how you can avoid/resolve the issues for yourself.


When you send an email it will typically be stored in a temporary folder (typically called an outbox which may or may not be visible to the user) in your email system. From there the software will check it and then attempt to send it to the desired recipients. The email wings its way from the originating server and attempts to reach its target. Along the way it will often pass through several servers to reach its destination. When it arrives the server that receives it several steps occur:

  • It will check to see if the recipient’s name exists.
  • If not it will reject the email and send it back to the originating server.
  • It will check the email and filter for viruses and potential spam content that would irritate its recipient. The exact nature and operation of the methods it uses to ID spam and reject are totally dependent on the server.
  • Typically emails deemed virus infected will be totally rejected and the recipient never knows of their existence while Spam might be flagged in its subject line (terms like “-----SPAM-----“ “Spam:” & “Junk: ” are not uncommon) before passing onto the user.
  • At the users machine their own email software, antivirus software and malware protection will also make similar decisions to delete, reject and label incoming emails.

Unfortunately many servers will detect ecommerce receipt emails and other legitimate correspondence as spam by their formulaic nature, structure and links embedded back to the host site for the customer’s convenience.

Image Blocking

Another feature of modern email software is to block the loading of images unless the sender is deemed safe.

When you receive an email with images in it to ensure they display correctly (to make the emails smaller & quicker to send and sometimes also for marketing reasons) the email just sends code to display the images in the email which, when opened, contacts the server the images are on and downloads them into the email.

Unfortunately this system can be abused to deliver unwanted content to the recipient that bypasses your email server’s protection.

Many good software clients allow you to view these images on a case by case basis as well as blanket options to turn the protection off. Blanket turn off is not recommended as some clever attacks will compromise a friends machine and use their email software and their contact list to send out infected emails which will of course you might receive and have marked in your whitelist as you know the sender.

Thankfully these types of attack are becoming rarer in part due to email servers so effectively spotting and flagging spam and viruses.


Whitelisting Emails

So what can you do to help get your legitimate emails read and processed?

To help ensure the receipt of emails to your inbox (rather than your Spam folder), you can add friends and known contacts to your email software’s’ whitelist (aka Approved, Safe Sender List).

Of course this does nothing to items rejected or labelled at server level but does help override your own software’s tendency to move emails arriving with the subject line starting with  “SPAM“ to your junk folders.


Popular Email Clients

Most email clients allow whitelisting as an option. Here are some quick examples of how you turn it on for popular email clients. They general methods is to add an email as a contact and then to include that contact as designated safe user.

You can do this for every contact you have as they come in and also to ones that have been erroneously filtered into your Spam/Junk folders.


1. Open email.

2. Click on the “down arrow” near to the “Reply” button.

3. Click Add to contacts list.

1. Open an email.

2. Click in the header.

2. Click Add.

Yahoo! Mail

1. Open an email.

2. Click “Add to contacts” for a popup.

3. Click Save to finish.

Windows Live Hotmail

1. Open an email.

2. Click “Add to contacts”.


Microsoft Outlook 2003

1. Open an email.

2. Right-click “Click here to download images” grey bar at the top of message.

3. Click “Add Sender to Senders Safe List” to finish.

Microsoft Outlook 2007

1. Right-click email.

2. Click “Junk E-mail”.

3. Click Add Sender to “Safe Senders List”.

Microsoft Outlook 2010

1. Click Home tab.

2. Click Junk.

3. Click “Junk E-mail Options”.

4. Click “Safe Senders”.

5. Click Add.

7. Click OK.

Mac Mail

1. Click “Address Book”.

2. Click File.

3. Click “New Card”.

5. Click Edit.

Mozilla Thunderbird for PC

1. Click “Address Book”.

2. Highlight “Personal Address Book”.

3. Click New Card.

Apple iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod).

1. Tap on a message.

2. Tap the sender.

Add to either “new contact” or an “existing contact”.

Android Devices

1. Open the default email client

2. Tap sender’s picture.

3. Click OK to add to contacts.

By Alanna at 28 May 2014, 11:55 AM