Hot Stuff! Spam Filtering Services

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In previous newsletters, I’ve covered various client-side tools that individual end-users can install to filter spam on local e-mail clients and have also mentioned server-based tools that can filter spam at the incoming mail store. In this newsletter, I cover a variety of Web-based services that perform the same function for end users but that do their jobs independent of the user’s e-mail server and their local e-mail client software.

 

I stumbled across this emerging category of anti-spam tools as I prepared to go on a business trip last month. I needed to be able to read my e-mail through a Web interface, but wanted to be able to avoid having to read all of the spam that normally finds its way into my inbox, along with the e-mail I do want to read. In earlier newsletters I reported that industry studies showed “signal to noise” (real e-mail to spam) ratios were approaching 30 percent. My own recent experience of late (as verified by the spam filtering service I now use) is that this ratio is more like 10 percent. That means I get 9 bogus messages now for every real message I actually want to read!

 

Anti-spam services typically use a combination of predefined filter lists and user training to do their job. In the first 10 days of use, I had to select an awful lot of e-mail addresses, both to allow recognized users into my inbox and to block unwanted senders out, supply addresses for the mailing lists I do read, and do a lot of interacting with a Web page to eliminate most spam from ever showing up on the radar. Results will vary from service to service, but the productivity improvements such services can provide can be pretty pleasing.

 

The service I use charges about $3 a month to clean up my e-mail for me. Since that’s worth only minutes of my time, this service pays for itself nearly every time I use it. The service works by insinuating itself between my POP server and my e-mail client. Now, instead of downloading e-mail from my POP server (where all incoming mail to my various e-mail addresses is ultimately delivered), I download e-mail from the anti-spam service machine. This lets me inspect and manage incoming mail through my Web browser before I access it using my mail client. (I still get 100-plus messages a day from “unverified senders”—the service’s term for e-mail senders whose ability to send me e-mail I have not yet explicitly confirmed.) But what does show up in my inbox these days is pretty much only mail I am inclined to read, or want to read from time to time.

You can easily locate such services through Google by searching on the string “anti-spam service” and looking for offerings aimed at end-users that massage incoming e-mail streams before they ever hit your inbox. My current anti-spam service provider is an outfit named SpamArrest (http://spamarrest.com); they offer a 30-day free trial that’s genuinely worth trying out.

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