Jun 13, 2011

Disposable Email Addresses

With so many high profile data breaches being reported these days, we hear a lot of talk about the importance of a good password.  Unfortunately, the best password in the world can’t prevent you from being spammed.  We thought it would be nice to highlight an underused feature of our top three ISPs: disposable email addresses.

The idea is simple.  You create a unique disposable email address for each newsletter or web service you use.  If that address starts receiving email from a disreputable marketing service, you’ll know your information has been shared and who shared it.  Should that happen, you can either delete the alias address or set a filter on the incoming email.

It’s the kind of oversight that paranoid and vindictive people like me just love, but it’s also an additional layer of protection between you and spam no matter how curmudgeonly you are.  Let’s go over the details on MailChimp’s top three ISPs.

Gmail

This may be the easiest disposable email service of the three, but in my opinion it’s also the most useless.  You can take any gmail address and add a plus sign and a keyword to create as many disposable email addresses as you want.  You don’t have to register them with Gmail first, and they’ll deliver to your regular address automatically.

For example, let’s say I own example@gmail.com.  I could create the following disposable email addresses on the fly at any sign-up form:

  • example+newsforum@gmail.com
  • example+bookclub@gmail.com
  • example+nospam@gmail.com

The keywords after the + sign let me keep track of where I used each disposable address.  If I start getting non-bookclub emails at my bookclub address, there will be hell to pay.  The problem is that my actual gmail address is still highly visible.  Spammers know how to circumvent this plus sign stuff, so it doesn’t offer a lot of protection.

Windows Live Hotmail

This takes a little more effort to set up, but you’ll be able to hide your primary email address.  That’s because Windows Live lets you choose an entirely new ID.  It’s called an email alias.

Finding this feature in your options can be a little challenging.  To be honest, I never found it, but I did stumble across this helpful link which saved both my head and the wall from needing extensive repairs.  Just a warning, if you want to look through the Windows Live Hotmail Help Center, make sure you have ice and touch up paint on hand.  Okay, moving on.

All you need to do is think up a unique alias name, and register it through the form linked above.  You can allow this address to come to your inbox, but to Hotmail’s credit, they make it really easy to redirect this mail to a folder.

You can create 5 email aliases a year, but they cap you at 15 total.  This is really the biggest downside.  As you sign up for more and more newsletters, blogs, forums, and retail sites, you may not be able to give each one a new alias.  Should this happen, remember that Hotmail also accepts the on the fly "+" nomenclature.

Yahoo!

Yahoo also offers email aliasing, and I really like their service.  You can have up to 500 aliases, and they force you to use a new basename and a keyword that aren’t your primary email address.  The only drawback is that you have to be a Yahoo! Mail Plus user, and that is not a free service.

For those who are Mail Plus users, just go to Option and then More Options.  You should see a menu item for disposable email addresses.  This form makes it easy to add, edit, and remove any disposable email addresses you create.

As I mentioned before, they have separate fields for the basename and they keyword.  All Yahoo email aliases will be in the following format:

  • basename-keyword@yahoo.com

The basename has to be a unique Yahoo ID, but the keyword is there to help you remember where and how you are using this alias.  Name it wisely, by which I mean, be obvious.  It may be years before a company shares your info or has a data breach, and you may well have forgotten that one time you registered an account at chimptrek.com so you could post your favorite Freddie-Luc Picard quotes.   What?  It’s just an example, I swear!