How FastMail Failed Me

A few months ago I decided to move my life off Google. I felt uncomfortable using a company where their client is the advertiser and not me—I want to be the entity that the company worries about keeping happy.

I moved my calendars to Apple’s iCloud where it turned out to work much more smoothly for our Apple-centric family than when all the calendars were on Google Calendar. That transition was very easy and worked out great. (With Apple I am the direct client. iCloud may be free, but that’s not because they’re supported by advertising. Apple’s goal is to sell me more hardware, a goal they usually succeed at…)

Mail was a bigger issue. Apple’s iCloud was not a good solution in that case because I maintain a couple of different email accounts and use my own domains. Apple’s iCloud mail doesn’t support personal domains.

So I poked around a little and found FastMail recommended by a few different people. I was a little hesitant because they had been purchased recently by Opera as a backend for Opera Mail and many people seemed to be complaining. But a careful reading of all the complaints showed that the complaints seemed centered almost entirely around an updated web interface. I planned to primarily use Apple Mail and iOS Mail to connect, and thus proceeded ahead.

FastMail offers a free trial and after a brief time with my two accounts I ponied up my $80/year for two enhanced accounts. I was happy. FastMail offers many features and pretty good spam detection.

Then one day I couldn’t access my accounts. I waited a bit thinking there was just some burp on the backend, but my access did not come back. I did some testing and discovered all my email was bouncing! Thankfully, I am a technical guy and I knew how to change my domains’ MX records so that my email was directed back to my Google accounts for the time being. I “only” lost about 8 hours worth of mail by the time I got things redirected.

So what was up? I sent an email to FastMail support and they said this:

Your FastMail account was recently detected sending bulk/duplicative/spam emails. […] Consequently your account sending has been locked.

If you can ensure that you would not use your account for further bulk mails, we’ll be happy to unlock your account. If not, we suggest you look for another provider.

There are some serious problems with this:

  • They did not simply lock my account “sending”. I confirmed that my email was bouncing. I was actively losing mail while they had my account locked.
  • They did this with absolutely NO notification. I had to discover it on my own and send a query to FastMail about it. It took them 4 hours to respond to my query.
  • I have no idea what they “detected”. My accounts were secured with very good, random passwords. I had used the same email addresses on Google for years and never had a problem. Despite asking about exactly what was detected, I never got an answer from them. I am quite certain at this point that nothing was hacked.
  • They locked both my accounts. They were totally separate accounts, with no overlap whatsoever. It’s highly doubtful both individual accounts suddenly started demonstrating at the same time whatever problem they detected.

I responded immediately, summarizing the issues above and asking them to unlock my accounts. 12 hours later I received this from FastMail support:

The accounts seems to have been locked due to suspicion.

Could you please let me know exactly what you use the account “xxxxxxxx@fastmail.fm” for? What kind of emails do you send/receive in that account?

Again, I responded immediately and explained that they are purely personal accounts. I also expressed my severe disappointment about how this had been handled to this point, particularly since email was being rejected. If my accounts has simply been locked but were still at least receiving email and just preventing me from sending, that would have been quite a bit easier to swallow.

Almost two days later, and after I sent a second follow-up query, I finally got this response from FastMail support:

Your accounts have now been unlocked.

That’s it. Three days of totally broken email and I get no explanation for why it happened or assurances that it won’t happen again.

To their credit, they did refund my $80 (supposedly when they first locked the accounts) and told me they would not charge me again for the year, giving me free use for the year.

But at that point I was extremely reluctant to continue using them. Their support was slow to respond and the fact that I could potentially have been bouncing email for nearly 4 days is unacceptable. Despite liking some of the FastMail features (and having free use for a year), I vowed to drop them and move my email elsewhere.

During my down time I started looking at other services and decided to try PolarisMail. They are cheaper ($48 for my two accounts), offer more storage, and their support responses have been extremely fast and helpful. So far so good. They even have a special offer for FastMail users right now since they’ve found so many people jumping ship over to PolarisMail lately. They also specifically said in answer to a query from me that they would never block an account from receiving mail, and only block from sending if suspicious activity occurs, which is exactly what FastMail should have done in the first place.

13 thoughts on “How FastMail Failed Me

  1. Larry says:

    Looks to me as if Fastmail made a mistake (anyone can make a mistake) and then apologized to you for that mistake and gave you a year’s free service as a part of their apology. Seems pretty honorable to me — more honorable than the cut throat way PolarisMail seems to be trying to proselytize users from Fastmail. You just persuaded me to try Fastmail as the more honorable of the two. Integrity carries a lot of weight with me.

    • scrooks says:

      Perhaps. But I think the loss of email is the worst thing a mail service can do, and their initial response was absolutely horrid. Once bitten, twice shy.

      • Larry says:

        That’s all fine and dandy. But it seems you are concerned only with yourself. The company appeared to do everything they could to do make it right as they can for what happened to you. And you publicly posted this about them, anyway. Frankly, I’m not impressed either with the way you post nor with the way this PolarisMail outfit does business. :shrugs:

        • scrooks says:

          Well, let’s see. 1) Yeah, this is my blog, so it’s written fom my perspective. 2) If I were shopping for a mail host I would want to know something like this, so I up it out for whoever is curious. 3) The Fastmail people could certainly have done more—they were very, very slow dealing with my mail being completely lost. 4) I simply posted what happened. Anyone, like you, can still make whatever choices you want. 5) I’ve found the PolarisMail support to be extremely swift, personal, and helpful.

          Bottom line, Fastmail screwed up and had a terrible immediate response. They never did anything to assure me it wouldn’t happen again. PolarisMail has been much more helpful and assured me they would never bounce mail without plenty of warning and questions about suspicious behavior.

          • John A. Ficke says:

            Seems to me that Larry must work for Opera or FastMail… FastMail’s response was completely unacceptable. As was the way they dealt with all of their long-time customers that suddenly found out that the entire interface had changed over night… Without so much as a warning from FastMail…

            They WERE an awesome service… Right up to the time they were bought out by Opera!

            Please! PolarisMail is doing it right by seeking dissatisfied customers from FastMail! That’s what we call capitalism and why companies that go the way of FastMail go exactly where they belong… Out of business! Loose the confidence and trust of your customers at your peril!

    • Kirk says:

      Larry,

      If everything in Steve’s account is accurate, this sort of incident is completely unacceptable and warrants an official apology and explanation of what changes are being made to prevent it from happening to other Fastmail customers.

      I agree that PolarisMail looks a bit sleazy, but regarding integrity: is it possible that you work at Fastmail?

  2. Kirk says:

    Steve,
    it takes real bravery to publicly criticize a company which has access to your private emails.

    Bravo and thanks.

  3. I went through the exact experience with Opera a couple of years ago- being blocked as a spammer and my email account suddenly rendered entirely useless. I developed my own domain in the time since, though for cost factors had switched to lavabit earlier this year. I loved the cleanliness of their system, but as I type I have been unable to access my account there since yesterday. I can seek out no explanations, as their comment box leads only to an error system stating the Apache server is evidently down. Completely frustrating, particularly as I have multiple business dealings that are in progress and very time-sensitive. So, my own quest for the perfect email continues…

  4. Qanta says:

    I used to have a fastmail address, but one day after trying to log in I got a message saying that my account was ‘deactivated’. I checked to see if I had gotten any emails trying to warn me about this. I found one deep in the spam folder of the other account with a warning. Fair enough. My login attempt was done two days after the deadline. I then contacted customer service and got a reply confirming that it had been deactivated and that if I wanted my account I’d have to pay for a new one and but I wouldn’t be able to recover my email. The courteous rep (read sarcasm here) added, “hope this helps”. Really? Perhaps if they had saved my emails, I would have considered paying, but hey. They seem to be acting as if they were the only email provider. I have several email accounts from different providers and this has been so far the worst in terms of customer oriented. Good luck with them!

  5. Man. I remember the October Surprise, I guess it was, gosh, October 31, 2012. It was the WORST HALLOWEEN EVER for me! I was losing email left and right. I couldn’t even log in successfully. I had a custom theme for the old interface that wasn’t migrated over successfully and my entire interface was unresponsive.

    Support? What support?! I tried every means necessary, including writing opeds in the email forums, and nothing, absolutely nothing. My account had just renewed a family account (3 premium accounts) on Oct 12, and t hey refused to give me a refund. I had been with them since 2006, a real long-time customer. I had personally referred hundreds of people to them over the years. I couldn’t even get people in Opera to help me out.

    I found PolarisMail and the owner actually supported me in getting all of my mail over via IMAP. I loved his support so much that I told him all about the FastMail saga, and even though I had already paid in full, I asked him to tweak his payment plans to be more in line with FastMail and even consider adding a promo targeting Fastmail users. I was really excited when he had it up very shortly thereafter!

    I’ve been using PolarisMail every day since, and it is frickin rock-solid! It is so much faster than the two last incarnations of Fastmail were, and I really dig it. The owner is a great guy, too, really fast with support and even gave me his Skype number, so he’s pretty much always on call if I have a true emergency, which are few and far between.

    In exactly 2 years, I haven’t noticed much more than 30 minutes of downtime, which is so much more than I can say for either Fastmail or even Gmail. I would seriously give them a chance!

  6. meichanchan says:

    I have been emailing with fastmail for weeks now over an fastmail.fm account that is now inaccessible. I had a secondary contact and never rec’d anything except a warning of an impending data limit. All my material appears to be gone and their help desk is just this automated circular (well, no, I know that there is a guy, Yasser, behind the ‘do not reply’ email) that keeps sending msgs like, “this ticket has not been accessed in and has been closed” and they send you back to do it all over again. I sent a very stern (haha) response at one point, as the automatic help ticket system they direct you back to requires info that you often can’t access (duh!) and they did then request info which I supplied. New ticket number, and repeat. They just keep letting it run out. I did not receive an email re: the pending dissolution of my account and my materials are gone. They don’t even have the protocols or customer service chops to SAY SO.

    Booo, fastmail.

  7. John Aslep says:

    If anyone has issues with Fastmail, submit a ticket and also post on this forum: http://www.emaildiscussions.com/forumdisplay.php?f=27. I actually had the CEO of Fastmail resolve my issue after the people hosting this forum got a hold of him. It’s a very helpful place for Fastmail customers.

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