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Saturday, September 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Inbox / Charles Bermant
Test result: Fastmail lets some spam through

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Three weeks, ago I reviewed a Web mail service called Fastmail, which claimed to include superior spam filters. I included a simple, unscientific test. By publishing the address, I invited harvesters to take their best shot. Consequently, it was up to the program's filters to protect my sensitive nature.

The final score is also unscientific. From Sept. 7-12, I received 47 unsolicited commercial e-mail messages. If this is annoying, it's less than what turned up in my regular box during that time.

And there is always the comparison to America Online. Subscribers to that service receive what feels like a ridiculous amount of spam, but it's nothing compared with the stuff that gets blocked.

It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to analyze fresh spam. The leading topic in this batch offered "free" airline tickets, provided after signing up for a long-distance service. There were offers of free smiley faces (these really were free, but of debatable value to a Mac user) and the standard insurance and mortgage offers.

Amid the other advertising chattel, there were two versions of the Nigerian scam (the absence of such messages would disappoint).

There was one refreshing aspect of this spam assortment, even if it falls under the category of faint praise: There was no porn. So even if a spam filter isn't completely effective, it's at least tolerable if it sorts out the obscene stuff.

Still, this microcosm of 47 messages supports some continuing generalizations. People still lie. A few of the messages said they got my address because "you opted in on one of our partner sites to receive information on 2 free airline tickets" or thanked me "for requesting information on a great new business opportunity."

In fact, I have never used this address aside from submitting the column that posted it online.

The lie that should surprise no one is that nothing "free" is free. However, it's an amusing pastime to open this mail and see how fast you can find the catch. That is, if all that night's TV programs are reruns and you've already watched all the paint dry.

Will I ever use my Fastmail box again? Probably. The interface and service are still better than most, and this allows me to create a spam laboratory.

If you sign on to Fastmail, or any other Web mail service, will you live a spam-free life? Probably not. But the chances increase if you don't tempt fate.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at

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