A grim milestone: I maxed out the number of spam addresses Gmail can block

A grim milestone: I maxed out the number of spam addresses Gmail can block

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A few months ago, my G Suite-enabled Gmail account reached a dismal milestone: without warning, the “crash [email address]”, Available in the menu with the three vertical dots at the top left of the Gmail screen, stopped working because it had exhausted the total number of addresses that Google allows to block.

For years, I have used the feature generously to block emails from PR people submitting off-topic arguments or scammers trying to spoof my passwords or infect my devices. With one click, any future emails sent by those pesky addresses would automatically land in my spam folder.

Locked but not locked

At some point, the block address function stopped working. When I use the now function to block an address, I see a message telling me that all future emails from the address will go to my spam folder. Which is exactly what I want. But that is not what happens. Emails from those addresses continue to go straight to my inbox.

Google doesn’t offer an easy way to find out. This is what I see immediately after trying to block an address:

And yet I keep getting emails from the same address. And when I open the email, it is clear that the address is NOT blocked.

I asked Google PR about this and got an answer that Gmail accounts are limited to only 1,000 blocked addresses. A spokesperson said Google is considering raising the limit, but if it does, it will “take some time” for it to happen.

This is a BIG step back. I get so much junk mail (mostly from PR people who don’t know or care what my pace is) that the lockout feature has been crucial to my productivity. Gmail was the first to pioneer an email service with data storage limits measured in gigabytes. At first, it provided powerful tools for sorting and searching for messages. He integrated the calendar. And yet, despite all this ingenuity, does Gmail limit blocked addresses to a measly 1,000? What the hell?

Since then, I have used Gmail’s filtering rules to free my inbox of junk, but that is not satisfactory. Creating address-by-address filtering rules requires many more clicks than using the blocking feature. And even then, Gmail filters have no way of spamming. I also assume that Gmail can also limit the number of filtering rules.

An imperfect solution

Google Project Zero researcher Tavis Ormandy, acting solely on his own behalf and not for his employer, has offered an alternative solution. It’s not very easy to use and I’m still not sure if it fully works for me, but it looks promising. The idea is to copy the 1000 email addresses that I have blocked and paste them into a filter rule that deletes all messages from those senders.

What this means is that you created a script and ran it within your browser console while viewing your block list in the Gmail settings menu. To find the block list, click on the three vertical dots in the main Gmail window, choose “manage inbox settings” and select the “filters and blocked addresses” tab. Then press the F12 key on a computer keyboard, choose the console tab, and paste the script.

Ormandy’s script looks like this:

Array.from(document.querySelectorAll("tr.r7[role=listitem]")).map(a => a.innerText.match(/<(.*)>tunblock/)?.[1]).filter(a => a).join(' OR ')

The console then returns a list of all email addresses on the block list, with each separated by a Boolean OR. Then copy the list, go back to the Gmail “Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab and click “create new filter”. Paste the addresses in the “From” field, click “continue”, check the “Delete” box and click “create filter” at the bottom.

In theory, this single rule should block all emails sent from these addresses, and that should allow me to remove the 1,000 blocked addresses so that I can add new addresses to the block list again. In practice, Gmail tends to choke when all 1000 addresses are fed at once.

When I divided the list into smaller parts, I got inconsistent results. Some emails were deleted and some were not. I couldn’t find a pattern for those that either worked or didn’t work. Aside from choking on large address lists, another issue is that in my testing it can take up to an hour for new filters to start working, but I don’t think that’s the only reason for the difficulty.

The most important point is that Gmail users shouldn’t have to go through obstacles like these to keep their inboxes free from spam and malicious emails. There is no limit to the evil that the Internet can offer, so there shouldn’t be a limit to the remedies for this evil either. Gmail, please drop me a life raft soon. Without the blocking ability, I am drowning.


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