My oddly inconsistent caution (or paranoia) with email addresses

November 24, 2010

I just went to an annoying amount of work to send out some email with an alternate and expendable address here in such a way that it was carefully scrubbed of all traces of my real email address (no Sender:, no envelope origin address, no nothing), but I also put my name on the message.

(The annoying amount of effort required is another rant.)

On the one hand, I'm a paranoid about giving people my email address, or when I have to give them an email address, about giving them my real email address; as I've said before, email has become a pain, primarily due to spam. On the other hand, anyone with a reasonable amount of Internet savvy can plug my name into Google, Bing, or the search engine of their choice and almost immediately come up with my real email address. No matter what I do with the email address I send messages from, if I put my name on my messages I'm not actually protecting things very much.

Once this inconsistency struck me, at first I thought I might just be being silly. But some more thought showed me that my reflex (and gut instinct) were right, because there's actually two different spam risks here; call these the spammer risk and the marketer risk. The spammer risk is that I am sending email to someone who is going to go to a decent amount of effort to work out a good email address for me, and then add it to spam rolls. The marketer risk is that the person I'm emailing will trawl their correspondence and add the results to some 'marketing' mailing list because hey, we've indicated interest, right?

Spammer risk is hard to mitigate but (depending on your perspective) either very low or very rare; the truth is that most people aren't going to go to that much effort (not even the spammers much of the time). It's generally not worth the extreme measures it would take to mitigate and if I really think that I'm probably emailing a spammer, I'm generally not going to email at all.

However, marketer risk is much higher and much more routine, partly because this sort of address harvesting is much easier for people to do. It does make sense to mitigate against it, even to go out of my way if I am feeling nervous about something. As for putting my name on my email, well, among other things I would like the people I correspond with to feel that there is a real identifiable person on the other end, one who is willing to put their real name on their email.

(Of course all of this could be a clever post-facto justification for more or less reflexive behavior.)

Written on 24 November 2010.
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Last modified: Wed Nov 24 01:11:36 2010
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