Just a quick observation on reputation and reality. Maybe it applies to your investing. Maybe not.

By now, we're all familiar with the popular media refrain that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) releases products with security flaws. Headlines scream the news, while the reality is that if you're going to subject yourself to the latest "vulnerability," you need to visit some obscure website, activate an unsigned ActiveX control, tap Ctrl-Alt-F6-tilde, jog around your home office three times, and then sacrifice an Antarctic mammal.

Meanwhile, the headlines tell us, upstarts like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and the Firefox browser it promotes are working harder to protect us from the baddies out there on the Web.

This user doesn't see it. In fact, this user sees the opposite.

Case in point: One of the features I found most intriguing about Gmail was that it has a built-in "phishing" filter, a system designed to flag those suspicious emails that try to trick users into visiting nefarious lookalike sites and giving up sensitive financial information. In my experience, most of these emails are designed to mimic eBay's (NASDAQ:EBAY) PayPal, though I've recently gotten bogus missives from fakers trying to prey on Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) customers.

Over the past couple of months, I've noticed plenty of these in my Gmail inbox. Gmail now appears to be as lousy at screening out spam as the competition at Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) Mail is. More importantly, the system designed by all those big brains at Google hasn't even detected these obvious scams, much less done anything to prevent me from falling for them.

Today, for the fourth or fifth time in the past month, I clicked on an obvious PayPal phish.

It was the most basic scam around -- the usual cock-and-bull story about a system error and the need for me to verify my sign-in information, followed by a string of hyperlinked text that looked like a valid PayPal address, though the embedded hyperlink was actually for some scammer's server. (FYI, Web newbies, you can identify these misdirections by hovering the mouse over the text and looking in the lower left corner of your browser to see the real target address. Try it with this one: http://www.AngelicBehavior.com.)

Gmail didn't say a thing about the email. The Google system had no idea this was a scam, though it could not have been more obvious. Firefox was completely happy to open the site for me. In other words, the great saviors of the Web, Google and Firefox, did exactly nothing to protect poor, innocent me from the most basic and financially dangerous scam around.

Shocking, eh?

You haven't heard anything yet.

Next, I tried clicking that link with miserable old security-risk Microsoft Internet Explorer 7. Result? A big red warning that the page had been reported as a phishing website and that navigation to it had been cancelled. IE courteously offered me the opportunity to continue my visit to the site but strongly recommended that I not do so.

The moral of this story? Things are not always what they appear to be. Even when a story (like Google saving the world from Microsoft) is repeated so often that it becomes the default wisdom, it may not be true.

And those are the kinds of informational inefficiencies that can produce both opportunities and risks when you invest.

Microsoft is a recommendation of Motley Fool Inside Value , where the analysis team looks past the hype and concentrates on the numbers that can make you money. A free trial is available.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson was long Microsoft common and calls, but he had no positions in any other company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. eBay and Yahoo! are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Fool rules are here.