Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows for wonderful means of communication—free voice and video calls, no-cost text messaging, and the ability to share your life with thousands of strangers you can call friends. On the other—like in the real world plagued by department store flyers jammed into mailboxes, robocalls, and acolytes moving from door to door to spread The Word—it provides a means for others to junk up your inbox with unwanted missives. In this lesson we’ll look at Mail’s junk mail protections, as well as at other ways you can keep from being overwhelmed with Internet offal.
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam …
You’ve likely heard the term used to refer to junk email. This is a reference to a sketch from the BBC’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus where the word spam is chanted over and over. It was specifically applied to unwanted communications thanks to miscreants of the era who filed posts on electronic bulletin boards that repeated the word often enough to scroll other users’ messages off the screen.
Today we use the term generically. While most often invoked to describe unsolicited (and unwanted) email, it’s not unusual to hear it applied to likewise junky text and voice messages, Internet forum and message-thread advertising, and Twitter messages containing links to unscrupulous websites. Because some people are confused by the term, companies such as Apple and Microsoft refer to it instead as junk mail.
About Mail’s Junk Mail feature
When taking you on a tour of Mail’s interface I mentioned the toolbar’s Mark As Junk Mail button (Command-Shift-J). This button hints that you can take action against the spam messages you receive. But that action goes beyond simply selecting a message and spanking it with a junk button. When marking a message as spam, you’re teaching Mail what is and isn’t a viable message.
Built into Mail is a technology that seeks out obvious spam. This can include, for example, messages from Nigerian royalty who believe you’re the kind of person who can be trusted with $25 million dollars, offers for cheap pharmaceuticals, and proposals of a more salacious variety. These are well-known scams designed to drain your bank account or steal your identity—so well known, that Mail is aware of them and will automatically mark them as spam when they arrive in your inbox.
But spammers are a crafty lot who spend a fair amount of time designing ways to skirt junk mail protections. That's why you must continually teach Mail about new spam strains. And that’s the purpose of the Mark As Junk Mail button. When Mail gets it wrong and lets one of these messages through, you must mark it as junk so that the application doesn’t get it wrong the next time. Likewise, if you receive good messages that Mail has determined to be junk—you’re a urologist, for example, who deals with drugs like Viagra as part of your working day—you must tell Mail that they're good by selecting them and marking them as such. (When you select a message marked as junk, the Mark As Junk Mail button changes to Mark As Not Junk. Click this button to mark as good a message that Mail mistakenly calls junk.) Through training the feature becomes more accurate.
The Junk Mail preference
The Junk Mail feature is configurable—you can see how by choosing Mail > Preferences and selecting the Junk Mail tab. The following are its options.Mail's Junk Mail preference.