I went on a business trip this week to Maryland, home of the Marylanders, and in the course of setting up transportation and lodging and all of those other things, I had to give out my email address way too many times. But you know what, I hate giving out my email address. As an ardent opponent of advertising, I really hate spam. Like, really hate it. Thus, I needed a way to keep my personal email private while still giving companies a way to contact me. A few years ago, I figured out a relatively easy way to do it.
All you really need is a domain name and a way to forward mail. You can register the name and use the mail services at a webhost, but I’ve recently found that NameSilo can do it all in one place. (I discovered this because Dreamhost recently announced they would stop supporting a catch-all email address, which is what we’ll need.) Essentially, we’re going to set up the domain to forward all mail sent to ANY name to another address.
Let’s say you chose to register sadclown.fart. Good choice. Here’s what you’ll do:
- Register sadclown.fart at namesilo.com.
- The nameservers should be set as ns1.dnsowl.com and ns2.dnsowl.com by default, but change them if necessary.
- From the domain’s management page, click on Email Forwarding.
- It may warn you that you need to add MX records. There’s a template that makes it really easy, so do that.
- Add a catch-all address and set it to forward to your real email address.
Now, whenever you sign up for Amazon or Pandora, you’ll give your email address as email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. And when you buy your plane tickets, you tell them to email you a receipt at email@example.com.
Why This is Good
Having a unique email address for every site has some interesting advantages.
- You’ll never forget which email address you used at a site.
- You don’t have to spell your complicated last name for people. (Can you guess what my private email address is?)
- If a company sells your email address and it starts getting hammered with spam (or spammered, as I call it), you can just put in a filter to kill that email address. For example, when Dropbox got hacked, I started getting a ton of spam to firstname.lastname@example.org. Luckily, it was easy to change my email address and then blackhole everything going to email@example.com.
- It helps with phishing. I get a lot of eBay scam emails, but none of them to the address I used with eBay. It’s like getting an Amazon phishing email to your work email; it just doesn’t make sense. So if Amazon emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I know it’s a scam.
- It confuses people. When I tell the Infiniti people that my email address is email@example.com, they say things like “Oh, wow, you must really like Infiniti.” No. I like not getting spammed and knowing which companies sell my information.
Why This is Bad / Not Great
Here are some unintended consequences and security concerns:
- If anyone figures out what you’re doing, they’ll know your email address at every site! That’s half the battle. Although, if you used the same email address at every site, you’d have the same problem.
- It’s not easy to send mail as firstname.lastname@example.org. Gmail can do it, but it’s a manual process for each email address.
- It’s hard to stop people from putting your personal email address into websites for you. Evite, e-cards, etc. Can’t do much about that though.
- You end up with a email@example.com email address.
Why This May Not Be Necessary
I’ve been thinking recently about whether all of this is even necessary. Gmail’s spam filters are pretty good these days. Not much gets through. But I still wouldn’t want to use my real email address when I’m checking out at a store. That would lead me to create a simpler address somewhere (like hotmail.com) and just forward it, but that doesn’t solve the problem either.
I’m also concerned that Dreamhost killed its catch-all support. Is that gonna become a trend? What if all companies stop supporting it? Well, then we’ll just set it up at linode.com. When that happens, I’ll show you how to do it.
Until then, consider getting yourself a sadclown.fart domain to use. It’s fun. It doesn’t cost much. If you need help setting it up, just oh look this post is ending.