I'm back from my end-of-the-year break and ready to jump back into the world of email and online direct marketing.
I thought I'd kick off the new year with an update on the world of spam filtering. For users who have installed Service Pack 2 on Microsoft's Outlook 2003 program, a new type of email "protection" has been made available -- the disabling of suspicious links. If a user attempts to click a link that Outlook deems suspicious, an error message will pop up saying the link doesn't work. Users must go to the top of the message and manually re-enable the links (although the button to turn them on specifically recommends against it). The best part is that the suspicious link detection ignores Outlook's Safe Sender list. So, even if you've approved a sender (enabling that sender's images to be displayed), Microsoft will still disable the approved sender's links. The only alternative is to disable suspicious link detection in the Junk E-mail Filter options dialog. Not surprisingly, users who install SP2 for Outlook 2003 will have this option turned on by default.
What makes a suspicious link? Microsoft is mum on this, but it's a good idea to flag links that contain IP addresses rather than domain names (e.g., "18.104.22.168" vs. www.ebay.com). Unfortunately, in my testing, this doesn't appear to be the case. Additionally, one would hope that links appearing to have one URL but that point to another would be flagged (e.g., a link with the name cnn.com that really points to www.badguys.com). Fortunately, Microsoft does flag this as suspicious.
My concern over this feature was heightened when the links in my daily New York Times emails were being flagged as suspicious. I did some experimenting and found that, if I forwarded the message to myself, the suspicious links alert persisted. However, when I removed the links containing bookmarks and mailto's, and forwarded the message to myself, the alert went away.
So there you have it. Microsoft ignores safe senders when it's checking for suspicious links, but it considers a bookmark that allows a user to move from one part of an email to another to be suspicious. My view: this is a first-version feature that addresses a real problem, but the feature needs some real attention and work before it will be as useful as Microsoft's customers need it to be.