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How I nuked mobile spam

Here's how to keep spam off your phone

By Mike Elgan
December 26, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's Note: You may not have seen this story during the holiday rush, but we felt it was too good for you to miss.

On Jan. 24, 2004, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates famously announced that by 2006, "spam will be solved." He was right. As I write this, 2006 is almost over and I've solved my spam problem. (Gates is still working on his.)

Everyone has spam issues, but I’m sure I have more than most. I'm constantly on the road and use my phone for e-mail, which means I can’t always use PC-based antispam software. Other antispam tools also aren't useful to me because, as a writer who covers technology, I need to be reachable via e-mail by readers, public relations people and others. I can't just create a whitelist and block everyone else, nor can I afford to change my e-mail address every year. Half the e-mail I get comes from people I don't know.

Then there's the issue of sheer quantity. In the past 10 years I've published newsletters, edited magazines and written articles. As a result, my e-mail address is published online on hundreds, maybe thousands, of Web pages. I must be on every spammer list ever created.

Until a few weeks ago, I dealt with spam by maintaining a complex combination of permanent and temporary e-mail addresses, Outlook rules, antispam software and funky kludges, such as masking my e-mail address by displaying it online as an image rather than as machine-readable text. My complicated system helped -- but certainly didn't solve -- my spam problem. I still got lots of spam in my in-box, and about 5% of the messages in my spam folders weren't, in fact, spam, which meant I still had to sift through all that junk mail.

A few weeks ago, though, I bought a BlackBerry Pearl, which forced me to finally solve my spam problem.

The trouble with mobile e-mail

Once I actually started using my BlackBerry, I faced the very real problem of figuring out how to take advantage of the e-mail notification feature without being overwhelmed by spam.

On my old Palm Treo, I would occasionally press the "Get" button and e-mail from my normal e-mail addresses, including spam, would come flooding in. I could ignore the spam on my Treo, but on the BlackBerry, every message sounds an alert. Every spammer suddenly becomes a telemarketer, interrupting me with a ringing phone.

I could have created a new, BlackBerry-only e-mail address. But then I would miss important e-mail sent to my regular address, and some messages would go to my phone while I was sitting at my desk.

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