For several years now I’ve enjoyed using FastMail, a paid email service. Email is sufficiently important that I don’t mind paying for it, especially if that delivers me from having my emails scanned and the data therefrom sold. I’ve recommended FastMail to a number of people, but I’m not going to be doing that any more.

A few days ago I took a look in my Archive mailbox, which is where I stash almost every email I’ve dealt with (I’m a search-rather-than-sort person), and noticed, to my great surprise, that it only had seven messages in it. I refreshed the mailbox a couple of times: still just seven messages. I use the FastMail web interface, because it’s very quick and has excellent keyboard shortcuts, and hadn’t opened an email client in at last a week — maybe considerably longer. So I decided to check my email client to see what things looked like there – but first, I turned off my wi-fi. When I opened the email client I discovered that the Archive mailbox had 68,000 messages in it. Which was what it should have had.

Now perhaps you will see why I turned off the wi-fi – I didn’t want to give the email client a opportunity to synchronize the mailboxes, or I could have lost everything from my hard drive as well. To be sure, I’m an obsessive backer-up, and I have plenty of earlier versions that I could have restored from … but still: the sudden disappearance of 68,000 messages is discomfiting.

When I contacted FastMail I had the kind of exchange you might expect: they told me that I must have deleted them without knowing about it — though how I would have done that, since it would have involved moving them to the trash and then deleting the trash, while carefully preserving seven messages, I have no idea — or that my mail client must have done it — though I explained (several times) that I wasn’t using a mail client.

In the end they basically just shrugged and said they didn’t know what happened. And  I get that: the great majority of the time the client is at fault for this kind of thing, and any attempt to figure out what happened probably would be time-consuming and unlikely to yield a clear result. But in the absence of any effort to find out what went wrong, and in the absence of 68,000 messages, I don’t have a great deal of trust in the service. And under the circumstances, paying for it doesn’t make much sense.

Unfortunately, though, I have paid for the next 18 months of service. FastMail won’t give me a pro-rated refund, or any refund at all, but I’m deleting my account anyway — it’s not worth the uncertainty.