Safeguarding Your Email

written by Chris Goodwin on 2021-11-25

Your email address is big business

I think it goes without saying this day in age that your email address and in a bigger picture, your personal data is big business. People work hard to find out email's and personal information so they can sell your data to the highest bidder.

Even when there are situations where companies are not actively trying to harvest your data they may need your personal email to sign-up or login to a service they are providing to you. Should they be one of the unfortunate companies who find their services breached? Your data is at risk!

How do we get around using our email?

Well, there are options that make life more difficult and I think most users end up using one of these methods:

  • Just use your email
    • This method requires a lot of trust. You have to hope/trust that the website/application does not harvest your data to sell. You also have to hope they never suffer from a data breach. That is putting a lot of trust into people/services you know little about in many cases.
  • Create a junk email that you use to sign up for things
    • This is the most time consuming method. You'll end up with an email that has a lot of extra junk sent to it and it will eventually become unruly. You'll hate logging into it and eventually you will create another 'junk email'. It becomes a problem after a while.
  • Don't use services that require your data
    • They exist - but they are not everywhere and often there is a tradeoff. Lowered functionality, lacking in features, inability to save, etc. This would mean you would be missing out on a lot of applications and/or services that are important these days.

You can try making life a little easier by using a temporary email.

But even temporary emails have their drawbacks. There are a number of sites that exist out there offering you free temporary emails that can receive mail for a limited time. This is generally just long enough to get the registration emails for a site or some other email you only temporarily want. Then the email address permanently gets erased.

There are a number of sites that offer this functionality:

Use your email, without using your email

It sounds a little weird, but there are some services out there that allow you to do just that.

Essentially these services generally either provide the service for you, but in some cases they are open source and allow you to install the service on your own servers which give you ultimate control (and allow you to keep your data off of any servers but your own!)

If you use their hosted service:

  • You give them your email address and/or create a username
  • their system listens for emails that match a pattern like <some-dynamic-word>.<your-username>@theirservice.email
  • when an email is sent to any email matching that pattern, it gets forwarded on to your personal email

Some services allow you to respond to the emails that were forwarded to you, and keep your personal email hidden (which is fantastic - keeping your data safe!)

If you host your own:

  • You will have to read the docs to set it up and it will require maintenance to ensure it remains safe
  • The rest of the services generally work exactly the same as if they were hosting it

If you sign up for using their hosted service, it is 'giving your email' to someone else; which is only a problem should they ever provide your data to someone else or get breached. In theory, if you use that service correctly that one site is the only place your email would have to exist on a server. Again, if you host it yourself? You keep your data even more protected.

There are a number of sites that offer this service (both as a hosted service, as well as providing self-hosted options):

I have used (and continue to use) a couple of those. I really like Erine Email and AnonAddy. Being able to create an email 'on the fly' is fantastic. You can name the emails for the services you are signing up for to make it very easy to identify where email is coming from (and/or who is selling your data or spamming you).

What is the process like?

It's pretty simple - for this example we will assume we have signed up for something like Erine Email.

The process would work like this:

  • You sign up on Erine Email - creating a username (wilduser for this example) and give them your email you want to keep safe (realuser@gmail.com in this example)
  • You want to create an account at 'newapp.com', so you sign up using the email: newapp.wilduser@erine.email
  • All the emails from 'newapp.com' are forwarded to your real email, but the company only knows you by the fake email!
  • That's it, you're done.

If that new app sells your email or gets breached you will know because you will be getting a lot of emails from newapp.wilduser@erine.email. Since you're using a service like erine.email, you can simply login to the service and click the button to disable that particular address. No more spam, and no one has your real email. It's that easy!

Most of us created emails without knowing these services existed - and that is okay; but you can use these services in the future to help prevent your email from getting passed around even further and to help prevent additional people from getting your email.

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