Spam is here and it's not going away. In fact, for many, it's getting worse. While e-mail filters have become more effective at detecting the junk e-mail, spammers are equally ingenious in finding new ways of annoying us. And now legitimate companies have become more aggressive in e-mailing us for almost any reason whatsoever, without asking for permission or offering an easy way to unsubscribe. All of this means that our inboxes are filled with junk, making it difficult to read important correspondence.
Currently I use Gmail that I access through Apple Mail on my Mac. Gmail, like many other webmail products, does a good job of catching a huge amount of the obvious spam, the offers for Viagra, organ enlargements, replica watches, sweepstakes, free products and so on. There's also an additional junk filter in Apple Mail, just as there are in other mail clients such as Outlook and Eudora. They sometimes catch what Gmail misses, as well as e-mail addresses that you've previously identified as junk from within the program. That's not always effective because spammers keep changing their addresses.
Gmail spam catches about 100 spam e-mails a day out of the 200 e-mails I receive. But most spam filters, including Gmail's, are not effective at catching e-mail that's sent from businesses and organizations with which, at one time, we may have had a brief contact.
So, as a result, there's a huge barrage of unsolicited e-mails that get through, no matter how good the spam filters are. And that's the dilemma. It's impossible for any company, be it Google, Microsoft or Apple, to weed out all the spam perfectly without misidentifying some real e-mail as spam.
But there's hope. If you can't detect spam 100 percent of the time, you can still prevent it from getting in your inbox. How? By blocking all e-mail, except from those that you've preapproved.
This is the basis of Spam Arrest, a challenge/response e-mail system that I've been trying out for about a month. Before delivering e-mail to you, it checks to see if the sender is on your approved list. This list is made up of all the e-mail addresses in your contact list and any others that you have previously approved.
It works like this: A sender who is not on your pre-approved list receives an e-mail, asking them to verify that they are a real person by replying after typing in a few characters. Once the sender has done this, their e-mail is then released from Spam Arrest's unverified folder and sent to your inbox. The e-mail address is saved to your approved list and the sender will never will be asked again. All of the unverified e-mail not receiving confirmation sits in the unverified folder and is deleted in seven days.
To set up Spam Arrest, you simply modify the server settings in your e-mail setup, in my case Gmail. Spam Arrest will then examine the e-mail coming into Gmail first, apply its verification process, and then deliver it to you. There's no measurable delay for the good mail, and it all works transparently. You need not do anything different, and Spam Arrest uses your own e-mail address.
Unfortunately, I still get a few e-mail messages in my junk folder from some senders who take the time to authorize themselves. In these cases I can add them to the blocked list and never hear from them again.
For Spam Arrest to be most effective, it should be set up on your smart phones as well. There's also a free iPhone app that lets you view those in the unverified folding awaiting approval.
There's just one negative to this product: It creates some added effort for legitimate e-mailers to send you e-mail. Hopefully these e-mailers will understand that you're trying to cope with a problem that leaves you little choice.
And Spam Arrest is not for everyone. My wife gets very little spam after it's filtered using Gmail and Eudora, and would have little need for this product. But for those who are bombarded with spam and junk e-mail, Spam Arrest has proven to be one of the most effective ways to keep your inbox free of spam.
It takes a little bit of work to sort out the good from the bad in the unverified folder, but over time that lessens and the filtering becomes more effective.
The service costs $50 per year or $6 per month. That's a small price to pay for saving time and keeping your inbox clean. A free trial is available at SpamArrest.com. When my free trial expires I intend to subscribe.
Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," holds 30 patents and is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Phil can be heard on KOGO AM the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Phil's blog is blog.philipgbaker.com.