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How to Stop iCloud Calendar Spam

A new and pernicious kind of spam has crawled from the ooze to take advantage of an iCloud feature. By default, if someone sends you an event invitation, iCloud automatically inserts it into your calendar and prompts you to accept or decline the invitation within the Calendar app on your Mac or iOS device. This is a nice feature when you’re receiving actual invitations to meetings or outings with friends.

Unfortunately, spammers have discovered that they can use it to send you ads in the form of invitations. Right before Thanksgiving, I received a pair of ads that were all-day events advertising a sale on sunglasses. These events had alerts set, and they appeared on all of my devices (home Mac, work Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch).

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy about this and went to remove these events from my calendar. Unfortunately, if you attempt to remove an event, either by deleting it or by selecting it and choosing Edit > Cut, Calendar informs you that removing the event will cause a notification to be sent to the event organizer.

That seems like a bad idea. The general assumption is that you never want to respond to a spammer because doing so could lead to receiving even more spam. I don’t know if this is actually true; it seems unlikely that modern spammers would bother to collect and use such data. Regardless, it feels wrong to acknowledge such spam in any way.

In order to remove the event without sending a notification back to the spammer, you need to follow a few steps that you might not think of on your own:

  1. In Calendar on your Mac, create a new calendar by choosing File > New Calendar > On My Mac. You don’t even have to name it — “Untitled” works just fine.

  2. Drag the spam events to the new Untitled calendar in Calendar’s sidebar.

  3. Control-click the Untitled calendar and choose Delete. Calendar asks if you want to delete it or merge it with another calendar. Click Delete.

Obviously, this method for dealing with calendar spam is annoying, and not the sort of thing you would want to do regularly. Luckily, you can keep such spam off your calendar by disabling the feature that adds event invitations to your calendar automatically. Once you do this, you’ll receive event invitations via email, and you can accept or reject them from there.

To change the invitation notification setting, follow these steps on the iCloud Web site:

  1. Log in to your account and click Calendar.

  2. Click the gear in the bottom left and choose Preferences.

  3. Click the Advanced tab, and under Invitations at the bottom, select the Email to yourEmailAddress radio button.

On the plus side, making this change may mean that your email spam filter will catch future spammy event invitations, so you may never see them again. However, if you also get legitimate event invitations, your spam filter might erroneously identify them as spam too, so pay attention when you might be receiving a meeting invitation.

It’s up to Apple to solve this problem for real. The first step would be to allow the user to delete a calendar invitation without notifying the sender. In the real world, you’re allowed to ignore an invitation, and the virtual world should honor that as well. Slightly more complex would be a setting to receive event invitations only from people in your contacts list. Between these two options, most users should be able to eliminate calendar spam or at least make it easily deleted.

After initial publication of this article, Apple made a statement to iMore:

We are sorry that some of our users are receiving spam calendar invitations. We are actively working to address this issue by identifying and blocking suspicious senders and spam in the invites being sent.

We can hope Apple puts an end to this problem, but if not, you can use the techniques in this article to protect yourself from calendar spam.


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Comments about How to Stop iCloud Calendar Spam
(Comments are closed.)

Anonymous  An apple icon for a TidBITS Angel 2016-11-29 15:00
"crawled from the ooze" ... exactly; well said !!!
Andy Affleck  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2016-12-01 10:47
I can't take credit for that one... kudos to Adam for that one :)
Victor  2016-11-29 16:19
Andy, thank you for the information! This has been a nightmare for me. As soon as I delete one of these fake appointments off my calendar, four more pop up. I was on hold with Apple for more than 30 minutes when I decided to search the web to see if anyone else had problems and came across your informative and helpful article. Keep up the good work and prompt/timely articles/news. By the way- I attempted the first steps of creating a calendar but that didn't work out too well so I just changed the settings in iCloud as you recommend.
Andy Affleck  2016-11-29 16:47
When you create the calendar, make sure you are creating it in your iCloud account -- and that you are using Calendar on a Mac (I haven't tried this on iOS to see if it can be done easily there).
Another way to fix this is not use iCloud and have email, contact and calendar sync through MobileSync with this:
Andy Affleck  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2016-12-01 10:46
True, but the article is specifically about how to handle this when you DO use iCloud. You could also say that you can solve this by not using online calendaring or even using computers. :)
I cannot pretend to understand how Apple has integrated its various pieces of software. Fortunately for me, I have not experienced the spam described in the article. Unfortunately for me, I experienced events being added to Calendar that I did not want there.

My solution was to set a preference in Mail: Mail -> Preferences -> General -> Add invitations to Calendar -> Never.

I would appreciate any explanation of why this is better or worse than the solution in the article.
Andy Affleck  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2016-12-01 10:46
This setting in mail won't do anything about the calendar spam issue the article discusses. I am not sure if that is because they are not coming in as emails directly. What this setting change WILL do is ensure that you don't have this same problem when they DO come in as emails after making the fix I talk about in the article.
Thanks for the clarification. The events that I had been seeing were arriving in email messages (although not to my iCloud email address).

So far, I've been lucky enough not to experience what you described. I have implemented your solution to maintain that situation.

Thank you for the information and instructions.
Derek Roff  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-12-05 20:34
Thanks for the valuable information, Andy. I've made the changes you suggested, and I look forward to greater peace.

For a couple of weeks, I seemed to be getting spam emails related to Photos. Mostly from China, in Chinese. If you have thoughts on that, I'd love to hear them. I wish I could delete the Photos app altogether, or at least prevent it from launching except when I explicitly ask for it (never).
Andy Affleck  2016-12-06 09:48
Interesting. I've not heard of anything involving Photos. And I do use Photos (for my Phone pix, the real DSLR stuff goes to Lightroom). I'll keep an eye out for that...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-12-06 10:56
Derek, could the Photos spam have been people sharing albums with you? Now that I'm looking for it, I'm seeing a few other forms of this kind of sharing spam. Google Docs gets a bit of it, for instance.
Michael.Witbeck  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2016-12-05 22:10
Wonderful and timely info. Okay, okay, I'm renewing.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-12-06 10:58
Thank you!
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-12-06 00:27
Another reason I'm thankful I don't use iClod!
Mac Carter  2016-12-11 03:45
I have not seen any incidents of this issue on my system yet. However, I tried this method as a precaution and found that it produces some very unpredictable behavior with calendar event invitations. Some go through via email and some do not. Some actually disappear after sending them. After trying it, I went back to the normal in-app method.
Andy Affleck  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2016-12-12 09:50
I am unclear as to when they disappear? I believe it is normal behavior for them to disappear from your inbox after you accept/reject the invites. Or are you saying they are vanishing at other times?
Catherine  2016-12-13 08:59
Thank you so much! Spam on my calendar was driving me crazy and I could not figure out how to get rid of it. This worked (minor detail - new calendar on my Mac wasn't an option, so I chose on I Cloud and it worked fine)