Tags: , , , , | Categories: Tools Posted by bsstahl on 10/6/2015 6:24 AM | Comments (0)

One of the things I do to take better control of my online presence is to use a different email address for every online service that I use. I do this for 3 main reasons:

1. To Reduce Spam

If a single alias starts receiving spam, I have a number of options:

  • Since the alias is only used with 1 service, I can create a new alias for that service, update my profile on their website, and delete the old alias
  • If I no-longer feel like I need to receive email from that service, I can simply delete the alias.

I can also determine if a company is selling my email address to spammers. If I have to recreate the alias for a single service more that once or twice due to spam, I can probably assume they are selling my address and take the appropriate steps. Finally, since I am using non-standard email addresses (not my name@, or info@, etc) they are harder for spammers to guess and therefore less susceptible to spam.

2. To Help Prevent Companies from Tracking Me Across Sites

One of the ways companies can line-up data about me across multiple services or websites is by my email address. Since many people use the same email address across all services, it can becomes an easy way to be confident that a user of one site, is the same person as the user of another site. It is common today for a single company to have many different brands and properties, and to combine data from all of them (or sell that data to others) in order to learn more about us. As a result, it can be a benefit to our privacy if we use a different email address for each.

That being said, it should be noted that there are a number of other ways companies can track us across sites. To truly do what you can to protect your privacy, there are several other steps you should take to prevent your data from being tracked across sites. Using different email aliases is just one step. Perhaps I will make this the subject of a future post.

3. To Help Protect Me in Case of Data Breach

Perhaps the most important reason for using a different email alias for every service is that eventually, my data at one or more of these services, will be compromised. Like companies who legally have access to my data, hackers can use their illegally obtained data to also try to match-up my accounts across multiple breaches, or across multiple sites. For example, a single data set can provide thousands of email/password combinations that can be tried at common sites like Twitter, or at banking, government and other key service sites. It makes sense that we do everything we reasonably can to protect our own information since we can't assume that the companies holding it will be able to protect it forever.

Pick a Method and Use It

I recommend using Outlook.com to create email aliases since that service allows you to create truly distinct aliases and tie them to the same account. Gmail can also create many aliases per account, but they all start with the same alias and just end with a plus sign and then the unique portion of the alias (i.e. myaccount+Guid1@gmail.com and myaccount+otherstuff@gmail.com both work as aliases for myaccount@gmail.com). This is better than nothing, but this pattern is easily identifiable and can be filtered-out using software.

A good pattern is to use GUIDs as the email addresses. That is, an address like B99C3900-157A-45F7-AD20-67EF83ED6776@outlook.com or B99C3900157A45F7AD2067EF83ED6776@outlook.com will almost always be available and is impossible to guess. If you create a number of such aliases and keep them with you, perhaps in a OneNote notebook, you will have functional email addresses to give whenever you are asked for a new one. Then you just need to associate that alias with the service in your notebook so you know not to use it again, and so you know where each alias was used.

Do you have a recommendation of an email service or alias pattern that has worked well for you? Sound off on Twitter using the hashtag #OneAliasPerAccount.