What's lurking in your spam folder? Maybe you never look, but maybe you should. Last week, Gmail added labels to messages sent to users' spam folders that identify potentially dangerous mail. Gmail users will now be able to see why messages were marked as spam.
It's a good lesson for all of us, and that's Google's intention. "Use this information to protect yourself from potentially dangerous or fraudulent messages and to better understand why a message was or wasn't marked as spam," Gmail advised its users.
The labels appear at the top of each message and include links to a new set of articles on spam and other commonly encountered email problems such as phishing scams. I would have liked to see the labels added to the list of spam emails, to see at a glance how each was marked without having to open each one. However, Gmail has taken a step in the right direction with a feature other email providers don't offer.
Gmail classifies spam three ways. Spam that is merely a nuisance gets a black and white boxed message saying that Gmail has detected many similar messages in its spam filter. But spam considered dangerous to the user is clearly marked in red. Either similar messages have been used to steal people's identity or a possible malicious link or virus has been detected. Gmail automatically deletes messages in your spam folder after 30 days, but you can remove them immediately by choosing "delete forever."
And the threat of spam -- whether it's of the benign but still annoying variety or malicious -- is not limited to computers. Earlier this year, U.K. smartphone users were blanketed with spam because their carrier sent phone numbers along with other data each time Web pages were opened on devices. You guessed it, some less-than-honorable folks collected the numbers and used them to spam the owners on their smartphones.
Graham Cluley, security expert at Sophos, offered a way to find out if your cellular provider is revealing your phone number when you browse websites on your phone. Open your phone's browser and type in www.mulliner.org/pc.cgi, a demo page built by Collin Mulliner. If it comes up green, you're all clear. But if you see red, maybe you'll be seeing red with your mobile phone operator, too, Cluley said. (You must turn off your phone's WiFi before you run the test.)
Not all so-called spam messages are dangerous and some may not even be unwanted -- one person's spam can be another person's deal-of-the-day discovery. If you find mail that has been incorrectly classified as spam, you can relabel it yourself in Gmail. Look for a small "x" next to the "spam" label near the top of the email and click it. The message will be sent to your inbox.
On the other hand, if your email service has missed a piece of spam, take a moment to mark it yourself. In Gmail, use the stop sign button at the top of your inbox. Not only will annoying messages be removed from your inbox, but Gmail will use the information to make its filters more accurate in the future.
While mail you have requested is not technically spam, it can still clutter your inbox and be a nuisance. Unroll.me is a new online service that makes it easy to unsubscribe from mailing lists. For now, it works with Gmail, but Unroll.me will soon be available to Yahoo! Mail and AOL Mail customers.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.