Your eMail Address Is Precious
Often times, giving out your primary email address online isn’t such a good idea. It can be a leap of faith. You’re trusting the entity you’re giving it to won’t SPAM you, sell your address to 40 different email marketers, or won’t get hacked due to lax security and expose your private information. Once that email address is out there, you lose control.
To get a free coupon, to learn the secrets of the Shaman, to get on the mailing list for that monthly newsletter, or to confirm you’re a living, breathing human to participate in an online discussion group, you’re asked for your email address.
Everyone wants to add your address to their email database. It’s considered valuable information by those who collect them. It should be equally valuable to you. Your effort to protect it should be, at least, equal to the effort to extract it from you. One little mistake can turn your pristine inbox into a big, fat bulls-eye for every grubby, slimy, unscrupulous purveyor of SPAM on the internet. I’m not talking about the high-sodium “what’s in it” meat product that comes in a can. I’m talking about the annoying emails that hope to exploit your credit card with come-ons of every conceivable kind.
If you don’t want your inbox constantly abused, and your valuable time wasted by a barrage of useless emails you didn’t invite, you need options. With a little knowledge, you can have your newsletter on antique thimbles, and poke those SPAM-bastards in the eye.
Here Are Some Anti-Spam Tools
My favorite is the disposable email address. Unlike an email alias, there’s no need to set anything up before using a disposable address.
Yahoo Mail, for example, uses an email alias system. A Yahoo Mail alias is a modified email address added to an account and intended to mask the user’s primary Yahoo ID. You can setup extra email addresses in your Yahoo account, or up to 500 aliases in the form of firstname.lastname@example.org (where <yourname> is your email address, followed by a hyphen and text that modifies the address). But, aliases and extra addresses must be setup ahead of time, or any immediate reply to such an address will not be delivered. A reply won’t land in your Yahoo inbox until you have added the alias to your account.
Alias email addresses work much the same on Outlook Mail (Hotmail). Instead of using a hyphen (-) like Yahoo Mail, Outlook Mail uses a plus (+) modifier.
In preparing for this article I read what appeared to be conflicting information on Outlook’s alias address system, so I’m not entirely clear on the precise details of how it works or what its limitations are. I’m not sure Outlook is, either. I don’t use Outlook, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time pursuing the details.
The + modifier also allows you to track who might be sharing your email address. You can set up folders within your inbox and create filters to automatically divert emails to those folders. For example, if I create a DavesCompTips folder in my Gmail inbox and use email@example.com for any discussions for correspondence, I can then set up a filter that diverts all emails addressed to myemail+davestips directly to the DavesCompTips folder. You can do the same with bills, newsletters, family or any other category of email. This can be very useful for managing a busy inbox.
Disposable email is a little different. The nice thing about a temporary email address is that it requires little or no setup before use. If you must complete an email confirmation request in order to access that juicy new podcast on antique thimble collecting, you can quickly go with firstname.lastname@example.org, for example. Then, go directly to Mailinator.com, enter the name you used and retrieve the confirmation email. Once you click the confirmation link, you can download that awesome podcast full of hot tips on antique thimble collecting. Ain’t life great?
The point is, a temporary email address can be made up at the moment you need it and still reach an inbox somewhere so you can read a reply or complete an activation process, all without exposing your real email address to SPAM or other abuse.
There are several free Web sites that implement the concept of throwaway email addresses in different ways. Some sites, like Mailinator.com, offer no privacy or security at all because anyone can use or access the same mailbox. If you use the same “anyname” that someone else used before, you will also see their junk email.
So, when I use disposable email sites, I try to use an unusual name that no one else is likely to use, just for some small measure of privacy. Instead of using johndoe@mailsite, I might change it to john9doe@mailsite, adding a number or special character to make the spelling different from what others might be doing, assuming I’m the only clever one putting a number in the mix.
Some sites conveniently create a random and unique temporary email address with just a click, so no one else knows the address but you. Because the address is random and unique, this offers some level of privacy. These addresses and any replies to them expire anywhere from 10 minutes to 24 hours from the time they are created, depending on the site. Often, there will be a link on the site to extend the lease on that address if you want to.
Google’s Gmail provides a couple options with regard to temporary email addresses. Gmail also allows a + modifier after the email name. In practice, it would look like email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s very handy and convenient for an on-the-fly temporary email address. However, some Web forms will not allow the + modifier in the email address you provide. No sweat.
Gmail also allows the use of periods (.) anywhere in the name part of the address to modify it. As far as I know, this is unique to Gmail. The periods have no affect on the modified address and all replies to the address still go to the inbox.
Using email@example.com as our base example, some modified addresses using periods could be submitted as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or any combination or placement of the periods within the email name. All of those modified addresses will still go to the inbox for email@example.com, unless filtered out with a Gmail filter. The Gmail filtering system, by the way, is very flexible and easy to use.
So, whether you use a modifier with your original email address or use a temporary disposable email site, you have some very good options for protecting your privacy and preventing a flood of unwanted SPAM to your inbox.
I will leave you with a short list of temporary email sites and let you choose which site best suits your fancy. If you are using disposable email sites in an interesting way, please share in the Comments section below.
In no particular order:
- MailDrop.cc – Google’s contribution to disposable email
- Dead Address – Free anonymous disposable email addresses with inbox
- 10 Minute Mail – Throwaway email addresses – expire after 10 minutes
- SpamFree24 – German disposable email site
- AirMail – Generates unique disposable emails address, good features
- Mailinator – Feature rich, free, public, disposable email, alternative domains available (rejection protection)
- YOPmail – Free temp email addresses, alternative domains available (rejection protection)
- MailCatch – Disposable temporary email addresses, supports RSS and rapid access URLs
There are many, more. Here is a site which offers a chart that lets you compare the various disposable email Web sites: SocialCompare.com