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12/21/2003 Archived Entry: "A plan for email"

I find it interesting that, although I have three email addresses published on different web pages, over 90% of my spam is addressed to just one of them. This is the address that I use for personal correspondence, that appears in public databases, and that I use to sign up for most services and offers on the Internet. I'm tempted to conclude that robots trawling web pages are not the main source of email addresses for spammers. Which gives me hope that my new email plan will kill 90% of my spam.

Henceforth I will have four email addresses. For obvious reasons I won't list them here, so let me describe them using the fictitious address 'brad'.

1. My old, compromised address, 'brad', becomes my "throwaway" web address. I can't just kill it off, because it appears in too many places (e.g. historical documents) where people may have a legitimate need to contact me. So it will get an autoresponder telling people of my address change, worded in such a way that a human being must read and respond to the instructions. My new email address won't appear verbatim in the autoresponse, because a robot might pick that up. I'll continue to use this old address to sign up for any Internet services or offers that require an email address (but from whom I don't want email).

2. My new "personal" address will be something like 'brad2'. I'll send this as an email address change to friends and business contacts. On my personal web page I'll have instructions for how to send me email at this address; again, it won't appear verbatim.

3. I'm also creating a new address, 'brad3', for email discussion lists. The reason for this? When I'm travelling, I'd like to put an autoresponder on my "personal" address to let people know I'm away. And you must never put an autoresponder on an email discussion list! With some list software that creates a vicious loop of the autoresponder replying to its own messages and filling the list with junk. (I've seen this happen; it spams everyone on the list in record time.) So all my list traffic will go to a "list" address that never gets an autoresponder.

4. Finally, I'll still have a "public" email address on a web page. This, unfortunately, is unavoidable, because it's necessary that the ifeminists web site have a visible and published link to the site administrator. So far, though, I haven't picked up much spam on this address -- it's only existed for a year -- so I have hopes that this will be a manageable problem. If necessary, I'll route it through a very aggressive spam filter...or use another autoresponder.

Most people could get by with just two email addresses: the "personal" address and the "throwaway" address. If you never use an autoresponder, or don't have this capability, you don't need a separate "lists" address. And if you're not administrator of a controversial web site, you don't need a "public" email address. You could use a web-based account on Hotmail or Yahoo or some such as your "throwaway" account. Yahoo Mail is a good choice for mail management; they offer spam filtering, virus scanning, and autoresponse.

If, lucky you, you've kept your email address private and aren't getting spam, you can ignore all this. You might want to sign up for a "throwaway" email address, just in case.

If your personal address is already being spammed, you'll need to either kill it off or make it your "throwaway" address. And you'll need to resubscribe all of your important on-line services to a new address. It's good to keep a list of these. (What with email lists, newsletters, tech support accounts, and administrative contacts, I have about thirty sites that I need to visit to change my address.) Try to restrict this to trusted and essential sites; don't send your new address to any online service that might be selling it on to spammers.


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