Keeping Your Email Private While Sharing it Online

In the real world, we carry identification cards, drivers licenses, passports, and more to make sure people know who we say we are. No matter where you live, you’ve likely got one official ID that covers almost anything you’d need verified. Even just your name and date of birth is often enough.

For all the talk of needing a universal online ID, though, truth is your email address is really your online ID. Here’s some ways to keep your email safe, and still share your email with others.

The Irony of Online IDs

Sometimes it seems that the whole world of web apps is built on the back of email. Dozens of startups have tired to build something to replace email, but the funny thing is that they always seem to rely on email. Google Wave was still built on your main Google account, which is of course tied to your email.

Facebook presents perhaps the biggest challenge to traditional email, but it too is tied to your email address. You could use your Facebook as an email account, but even after Facebook added @facebook.com address to accounts, few use it as their actual email. Plus, you still have to use your normal email address to sign in.

So, for most intents and purposes, your email is your one true online ID. We use it to exchange our most important messages, login everywhere, reset our passwords on other apps, and more. You have to use your email, but you’d be in trouble if you lost it.

Keeping your email safe

There are a number of ways you can keep your email address safe and your inbox clean while still using it online. One of the easiest ways is to have two email accounts: one for normal correspondence, and another for online purchase, subscriptions, social networks, and more. This way, you’ll have one account you always check, and another that will quickly get filled up with junk but that you don’t care about anyhow.

Do note, though: keeping up with multiple email addresses can be confusing. Plus, if you use your “junk” account on web apps that offer email integration, such as a project management tool or even Facebook, then you won’t be able to easily use them directly from your email.

Another way is to tweak your normal address, so it’s not the exact same as your actual address. Then, if one of your variations starts getting too many unsolicited emails, you can set your filters to automatically send messages to that address to your spam. Plus, no one can try to hack your account from that address, since it’s not a real account and can’t be accessed with any password.

There are a number of ways to do this. One easy way in Gmail is to add a dot to your email address: if your email is [email protected], you could write it as [email protected], or put the dot anywhere in the address. Alternately, you could add any string followed by a plus sign to your email address, such as [email protected]. All of these will come to your normal Gmail account, even from the different addresses. You can then filter them to get your inbox more under control.

Another option is to use an email Alias, which is a temporary account that’s tied into your normal email account. Yahoo! and Hotmail offer this, which is great since the dot trick doesn’t work on them. Alternately, if you use your own domain for your email, and administer the domain email settings, then you can set your account to redirect emails sent to anything at your domain to your main account. This way, you could, say, use [email protected] to signup for sites, and the emails would automatically be redirected to your primary account. No one could ever reset your password from these extra “accounts”, and if you ever have problems, you can just redirect them to a folder or spam.

Redirect all unknown emails to your main account in Google Apps for your Domain

Sharing your real email

Can’t keep from sharing your real email address? Truth be told, it’d make life easier just to not worry about it and post your real email whenever you need. But that’s not a great strategy unless you’d like to zillions of spam email daily. The basic idea is that if you ever post your real email address in plain text online, it can be easily found by bots or even turned up with a basic Google search.

That said, there’s a number of ways to keep your email address safer and still share it online. One popular trick is to split out your email, so bots looking for exact email addresses won’t find it. You could write it like:

myname at gmail.com

or any other way that works good for you. For example, if you’re tweeting your email address to someone, and your email name is the same as your Twitter account, you could tell them to email your Twitter name at youdomain.com. Or, you could use an older trick: putting your email address in an image. Neither of these are fool-safe, by any means, but they can at least cut down how much spam and unsolicited email you get.

Your email ... in an image ... with a logo for the domain

Your email: Hidden in Plain Sight

When you need to share you email address on your website or via a social network or forum, one of my favorite solutions is reCAPTCHA Mailhide. This service, now run by Google, gives you a unique domain that will show your email address after visitors solve a reCAPTCHA. It only takes seconds to setup, is 100% free, and lets you share you actual real email address without worrying that it’ll be picked up by bots.

Your email hidden behind a reCAPTCHA

Another option is to use a throw-away email address from a service like Message.me, which gives you a temporary address that will forward to your normal email account. When you don’t want to use it anymore, you can just turn it off. Or, you could just make a simple online contact form on your WordPress site or with a free Wufoo account, and give out that link when people want to contact you. Each of these are a bit more trouble, but if you’re tired of getting spam, it might be worth the trouble.

Conclusion

With a few tricks, it’s not too easy to keep using your email as your online ID and primary contact method, and still keep from being overwhelmed by hackers and spammers. None of these tricks are perfect, but they’re some of the many ways that people across the ‘net keep their email addresses a bit safer. Plus, it’s rather cool to have unlimited email addresses in your Gmail account or your own domain’s email!

What do you usually do to keep your email address safe? Do you have a special trick, or do you just hope Gmail’s spam filter will save you from the deluge of junk? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!


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