loading...

We should have an email for each website

sonnk profile image Nguyen Kim Son Originally published at simplelogin.io ・Updated on ・2 min read

Why do I receive so many spams?

When this question was asked by my girlfriend (now wife πŸ˜…), my immediate answer was "Stop giving away your email" and I suggested creating a secondary email for "suspicious" websites. In addition, using the same email everywhere is like leaving the same footprint on the Internet, allowing advertisers to cross-reference your online behavior, affecting therefore your privacy.

She followed the advice, created a second email and was happy at first. But now she doesn't even check this mailbox as there are so many spams in it πŸ’πŸ»β€β™€οΈ.

So creating a second email is not a true solution. She needs more than 2, maybe hundreds. And why not an email for each website? But she cannot go to gmail or outlook to create hundreds of accounts, this is unmanageable. There must be a better way.

The solution, as far as I know, is email alias. An alias is actually a normal email address but all mails sent to an alias will be forwarded to your real email. Alias acts therefore as a shield (or a proxy) for the real email. An alias can be disabled anytime, making the spams stop.

Nowadays, some websites allow to unsubcribe quickly but a lot of them still make unsubscribing a difficult process. Some wouldn't even honor the request. And this doesn't stop the websites from cross-referencing your data with your email being the primary key.

Currently there are several solutions for creating email alias, they might give different names to the email alias though. A quick search on Firefox/Chrome store should give a handful of results. As a founder of such a solution, I would obviously recommend mine πŸ˜‰ but most of the other solutions also work fine.

Let's make spammers' life harder with email alias!

Discussion

pic
Editor guide
Collapse
krkd profile image
krkd

Just to be clear: My comment has nothing to do with the trustworthiness of the author of this post, I'm not trying to distract from the accomplishment of creating such a service. I'm not trying to imply that anything shady is going on.


I don't particularly see the appeal of using a third-party service for mail aliases. Mail aliases are something that all major providers have been supporting for a couple of years now (Google Mail / Outlook.com, this only documents adding additional accounts as alias, the simple trick with adding a "+" works there as well, the same applies for Yahoo). And if you are running your own mailserver, then the problem disappears entirely.

Initially sending your mail to an independent provider and subsequently having it forwarded to your main account adds an unnecessary amount of risk to the entire process:

  • The alias-provider can suffer from a plethora of technical problems, leading to a downtime, which means at least some of your aliases aren't available.
  • Those technical problems could lead to data loss, and since mail is only robust to some extent, you might quietly miss some messages.
  • The alias-provider can suffer from a security incident, compromising the confidentiality, integrity or (again) availability of a potentially significant part of your mails.

Those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. And of course there's always the potential threat of an inside attack - what if the alias-provider employs an administrator that turns rogue, exfiltrating your messages as they pass by? With these things in mind, I don't see a potential privacy-gain that outweighs the risk of adding in a(nother) third-party.

Collapse
sonnk profile image
Nguyen Kim Son Author

Thanks for chiming in! Your concerns are absolutely right.

  1. Backdoor/trust issue: I agree that we should never trust 100% a service provider. I can't speak for other services but for SimpleLogin, our code is meant to be open-source since the beginning. (actually we plan to make it fully open-source in the coming weeks). And we will make sure that the code is easy enough to deploy so anyone can deploy it if they want. (Ideally everything would run inside a Docker container but some components are still tricky to be run inside Docker ...)

  2. Stability issues: Emails are hard to manage and it's easy to miss some errors like you said. That's why I don't recommend my developer friends setting up their own email server, might seem easy at the beginning but maintaining it is a constant headache. A service needs to be monitored all the time and updated regularly in order to have a good stability. Doing so requires time and at the end of the day, finance. That's why it's maybe better to delegate this task to a service you trust. No service can guarantee 0 issues (even Gmail and Outlook have downtimes). I believe with a good architecture that mitigates risk, the data loss risk is greatly reduced.

About Google/Hotmail/Yahoo alias, they do have alias but: a. it requires a lot of step to create one alias. b. there are some limits on the number of alias. c. These technologies are proprietary and we are therefore locked-in. d. Gmail + trick is now a well-known fact so it's easy to cross-reference data.

Collapse
krkd profile image
krkd

I believe with a good architecture that mitigates risk, the data loss risk is greatly reduced.

I agree with that. However, if the gain I get from adding that additional risk of putting another service provider in my e-mail-chain is minimal, why should I bother with adding that risk in the first place? That's the point I'm trying to make.

About Google/Hotmail/Yahoo alias, they do have alias but: a. it requires a lot of step to create one alias. b. there are some limits on the number of alias. c. These technologies are proprietary and we are therefore locked-in. d. Gmail + trick is now a well-known fact so it's easy to cross-reference data.

I'm sorry to disagree here, but I most definitely do. I'll addres each point separately:

  • a.) If I compare the effort of "a couple of mouse clicks and entering another alias" / "adding a '+$service_name" every time I register at some place with "Finding, evaluating, registering with some service and then performing the aforementioned steps", the latter seems awfully more elaborate.
  • b.) There are no limits on the simple delimiter-based-aliases, for the address-based aliases I agree that there are. However .. very similar limits exist with most services offering aliases, at least until you pay them money.
  • c.) Mail-delimiters are anything but proprietary technologies. They are, quite the opposite, inherently part of a standard for mail, and are also mentioned in an updated SMTP-standard, RFC5321.
  • d.) So is the use of aliases.

I'd like to elaborate a bit on the last point. When e-mail first became popular, a personal e-mail-address was akin to something precious. It was personally tailored to you, and knowing mail-addresses gave advertisers / mass-marketers / spammers a very valuable trove of resources that could be used to invade the privacy of people.

Fast-forward 20 years, and mail-addresses are something that's cheaper than buying a cup of coffee. Everyone has at least two or three, with people having a dozen of them not being a big exception to the norm. There's not much profit to be made by tracking mail-addresses.

As advertiser / mass-marketer / spammer / all-around-privacy-intruding annoyance I have much better tools at hand. I have cookies in all shapes and sizes. I have analytics. I have those god-awful social-logins everywhere (including dev.to). I have people handing me their data left and right. I (putting myself into the position of the bad guy for the sake of the argument) really don't particularly care about mail-addresses.

And even if someone was giving me a headache with aliases, I'm almost 100% confident that cross-referencing usernames would be sufficient to make a connection again.

Again, I'm glad that there are people out there who think about privacy for the 'average joe'. Please don't interpret this as me trying to diminish your achievements, because it's not that at all.

Thread Thread
sonnk profile image
Nguyen Kim Son Author

Thanks again for your input and I really understand some of the points (they are the reason SimpleLogin was born πŸ˜…).

I agree with that. However, if the gain I get from adding that additional risk of putting another service provider in my e-mail-chain is minimal, why should I bother with adding that risk in the first place? That's the point I'm trying to make.

I would say the gain here is subjective and for some people (me included of course πŸ˜‰), it's worth adding an element in the chain to have all the advantages that email aliases bring. At the same time I also recommend my friends to NOT use SimpleLogin for more important stuffs like government, school, family.

a) The alias creation is actually really fast with browser extension, usually less than 2,3 clicks. Regarding this UX, SimpleLogin browser extension is actually behind the others as we don't want to ask too much permission from users. It's true that the Finding, evaluating, registering step is still to be done at the beginning though.

b) True. At the same time, I would not use a free service with unlimited alias as a service itself needs to be sustainable.

c) Thanks for the info! Would definitely checkout this RFC!

d) I can't talk for all services (some of them actually make an error here but this is a different story) but SimpleLogin aliases are actually completely random and there is no way to "link" between them. There's no risk of data cross-referencing.

About the use of email by advertisers, I used to work in advertising company before and from what I see, any data that we can get our hand on is precious. Cookie is hard, especially with Apple putting more and more constraints (which is a good thing for users) and doesn't work with multi devices (i.e. how to know this smartphone user is the same as the laptop one). Email in this case stays as a most reliable common field.

Collapse
cantnopwontnop profile image
NOP

I have done exactly this just over a year ago for the purpose of sandboxing websites from each other. There are some drawbacks, though.

  1. Humans trust you less. People will think you're giving them a fake address. I was asked by my bank if I had worked for them, since it had their name in it.

  2. Say goodbye to telephone or email support. Some CRMs filter issues by their account's email address instead of by ticket numbers. I found this out the hard way with Amazon. I needed to email a photo of a gift card code that didn't work, and they never received the email. I wasted an hour of someone's time just because my personal email address didn't match my account. Ticket numbers did nothing.

  3. Some email marketing systems take offence to using their name in the address. I signed up for LastPass, but even after unsubscribing... daily... I still got marketing mail. I couldn't get support due to #2. I hate LastPass so much I deleted my account and blocked their whole domain. (Oh, and their password reset page has different password requirements than their login sanitation)

Collapse
sonnk profile image
Nguyen Kim Son Author

The points you listed are very valid. I think they are solved by some email alias providers, at least ours (obviously πŸ˜…)

  1. You can customize the alias. For example all our company emails (hr@simplelogin.io, marketing@, recruitment@, etc) are actually all aliases 🀫.

2 - 3. Fair point, I never thought about this before ... In this case maybe you could generate an alias without the website name in it. Can't speak for other alias service but when you create an alias via SimpleLogin extension, the alias is linked to the current website so you don't need to put the website name into the alias to remember it.

  1. True. Some websites blacklist temporary emails (which I would do as well in their shoes) whereas aliases are actually permanent emails. In addition, if you use your own domain, then there's an almost 0% chance that a website would blacklist your domain.
Collapse
cantnopwontnop profile image
NOP

Almost forgot #4: Some websites blacklist their name in their own registration pages.

Collapse
wrldwzrd89 profile image
Eric Ahnell

Thankfully, with my own web hosting and 2 domains... I'm not going to run out of aliases any time soon. Thanks for this tip.

Collapse
sonnk profile image
Nguyen Kim Son Author

You host your own mail server right? That’s the best option if you can afford it!

Collapse
wrldwzrd89 profile image
Eric Ahnell

No, I don't have my own personal server or anything like that... I do have paid shared hosting, though, which is sufficient.

Collapse
grumpysview profile image
Grumpys view

This can be easily done in gmail, just put websitename. in front of your email address.

Collapse
wolverineks profile image
Kevin Sullivan

I used the Gmail + trick, but I couldn't find a way to use haveiveenpwned.com with hundreds of emails. Anyone able to do this?

Collapse
krkd profile image
krkd

It's one of the most requested features for HIBP - you are not alone in your quest.