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Information Disclosure That Affects You

I go to great lengths to keep my email addresses safe from spammers. One reason that I, as a general rule, refuse to put a real email address into a website’s contact form, give it out to mailing lists, etc., is because once your address is out, you never know where it will end up, and the spam floodgates are open. I also guard my email address carefully, and don’t give it to friends or relatives whom I know are addicted to forwarding chain letters, hot stock tips, or sending e-greeting cards to everyone in their address book, which brings me to today’s topic.

On two occasions, I received what I consider to be junk email from otherwise legitimate senders. One was from a local political candidate. I’m not sure how he received my email, but he felt obligated to share with me his recent track record in the state House. As I’m not in his district, I wasn’t terribly interested in what he had to say. Also, I recently signed up to be a mentor for a high school student’s senior project. I was asked for my email, which I voluntarily gave and, this week, I received an email from the teacher coordinating these projects.

The problem is that, in both instances, the messages were sent to everyone on their respective lists in the “To” field of the email. Effectively, my private email address was broadcast to dozens of other people whom I did not want to have it. This is the equivalent of making dozens of telephone calls to different people, and telling everyone everyone else’s unlisted phone numbers along the way. Within one day, I was receiving multiple messages on conversation threads that held absolutely no interest to me because of my inclusion on one of these lists.

Unfortunately, you cannot count on the people who have your email address to respect your desire for privacy, so you must take matters into your own hands. What can you do?

  • Don’t give out your email address in the first place. If they don’t have it, they can’t abuse it.
  • Have a “throw-away” email account (Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, etc.) which you use just for “junk” or potential junk correspondence. This means you have another account to check periodically, but it’s not that big a deal to do, and if it starts to be overwhelmed with spam, you can simply deactivate the account and forget about it. Also, if you have your own “vanity domain,” you can make up your own addresses, such as “[email protected]” or “[email protected].”
  • Politely try to educate other people who abuse the privacy of your email address by letting them know you do not want to be on their lists, and don’t want your email address shared.
  • If you must send a bulk email message to a group of unrelated parties, do not simply send it with all recipients in the To or CC fields. Email the message to yourself or an address you do not mind becoming public, and then BCC the rest of the list.
  • Better yet, use a mail merge function or a bulk email service, which will send separate, individual messages to every recipient.

Do you have any common-sense spam-fighting techniques? Let us know!

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