Apr 052006

At What Price False Positives?

At What Price False Positives?

As has been covered in many places, including Direct and The Wall Street Journal, Verizon settled a lawsuit yesterday over “too aggressive” spam filtering, or what we in the business call false positives — filtering out legitimate, non-spam emails as spam.  This is a huge problem that part of our business at Return Path, our Delivery Assurance Solutions group, has been fighting for years.

The gist of the settlement is that Verizon is changing the way it filters spam to make sure more legitimate mail gets through, and that it is refunding various small amounts of money or free months of service to customers who complained about the problem.

I am NOT a believer in lawsuits like this at all.  Also, I think the act of filtering aggressively enough to catch the spam but not so aggressively as to cause false positives is a very difficult balancing act that most ISPs actively struggle with every day.

So the outcome here is that a bunch of consumers will receive money or refunds or free service ranging from a few dollars up to potentially $100.  The seven class plaintiffs are going to receive $1000 each for their troubles.  Oh and for good measure, the lawyers are asking for $1.4 million in expenses.  Don’t even get me started on that one.

All that said, though, it’s interesting that there’s now some kind of economic cost to false positives on the books.