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The Preview Pane
The "Preview Pane" is a feature of e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook Express and other such programs. It shows a PREVIEW of an e-mail which is selected even though the e-mail has not been "opened".
This is a problem, because viruses can RUN even if the computer gets a mere sniff of the offending e-mail by it being shown in the Preview Pane! Also, having a preview pane allows senders of spam to get some unjustified gratification. Help is at hand, however...
On the VIRUS issue, there are some helpful clues about how to defeat viruses at the Antivirus page.
On the issue of PRIVACY, if you have a Preview Pane AND you look at e-mails while online, senders of e-mail may see if you are opening them. One of our helpful correspondents writes: "Whatever email is highlighted is shown below the list of emails after downloading. Effectively, emails are opened without you actually clicking on them. Since much spam, and many emails from legitimate companies, now come with a Confirmed Receipt bug that calls back to the company website as soon as you open an email, you are sending out information without doing anything. These bugs can be confirmed by turning off the preview pane, downloading your emails, disconnecting from the web, and then opening a suspect email. If the Connect box pops up, the email has a bug. This is equivalent to someone from Macy's (or Harrods) standing next to your mailbox and watching to see if you open their snail-mail ad. For automatic spam programs, it is a way to confirm active email addresses. To disable the preview pane in Outlook Express: View > Layout > uncheck show preview pane > OK. (this is in OE6; other versions may be slightly different) Anyway, I know OE is a malware magnet, but it is what most people are using* (2003)".
A few interesting points: If you read your e-mail offline, spam senders can't tell if you are reading the spam or not, whereas if you read your e-mail online, they can! The Preview Pane gives them even more chance to tell if you have received their e-mail. However, with no preview pane, you have to actually OPEN an e-mail to confirm it. And offline, there is no confirmation!
Further anti-bugging and anti-spying links can be seen at the SPYWARE CLEANERS page.
* Unless they've upgraded to Linux