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  • Take your email address out of your web browser
    Keep your valid email address out of the set­tings in your web brows­er. I don’t even con­fig­ure the mail serv­er set­tings there, as there are no cir­cum­stances under which I send email from my web browser—that’s why I have an email pro­gram that’s much bet­ter than the ones I’ve seen in any brows­er. No, cook­ies don’t grab your email address, but there are mali­cious JavaScripts and oth­er meth­ods that can get it. This one is less like­ly to expose you to prob­lems than the oth­ers, but if you’re real­ly serious…
  • Be aware of what infor­ma­tion you’re pro­vid­ing to whom
    Don’t pro­vide per­son­al information—including your email address—to any web­site unless you would want to receive email from them. The same goes for any infor­ma­tion request­ed in the meat world—I see more and more response forms request­ing an email address if you have one. Some of the sites that do require that you enter an address have a selec­tion box where you can note that you don’t want to receive email from them. You can make sure you tell them you don’t want the email—or you can just enter a bogus address in the first place (again, make sure that it could­n’t be any­one else’s valid email address). I will warn you that I worked briefly for a com­pa­ny that pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion ser­vices to a large retail­er with an excel­lent rep­u­ta­tion, and was sur­prised to find that they includ­ed every cus­tomer whose infor­ma­tion they had in mail­ings, with­out regard to the “I don’t want to get mail from you” requests. After that, I decid­ed that no com­pa­ny needs my email address unless I do busi­ness with them online.
  • Use dif­fer­ent email address­es for spe­cif­ic purposes
    Some peo­ple, espe­cial­ly those who own their own domains, use dif­fer­ent email address­es every time they pro­vide an address to any­one. If they reg­is­ter to use Microsoft­’s tech sup­port site, they’ll use one address for that. They’ll use anoth­er address as a con­tact point for an account with Ama­zon, and a third to reg­is­ter at Salon, and so on. They keep track of which address­es they used where, and if they start receiv­ing spam at those address­es, they know who is sell­ing the address to spam­mers. They can then chose to delete that par­tic­u­lar email address and not do busi­ness with the offend­ing orga­ni­za­tion again. If you’re a gMail user, any­thing after a plus sign is ignored, so you have an end­less num­ber of email address­es right there in one account! You can use username+football@gmail for a mail­ing list and username+retailername@gmail to sign up for infor­ma­tion from a store.
  • Don’t trust a web-based post­card site that isn’t an estab­lished, respectable company—and ask your cor­re­spon­dents to do the same
    I recent­ly learned that some greet­ing-card sites are sell­ing the address­es of peo­ple who send cards using their sites as well as the email address­es of the recip­i­ents. In addi­tion, some legit­i­mate sites are leav­ing them­selves open to abuse. Check the pri­va­cy pol­i­cy of any site you con­sid­er using.

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Pho­to by Becky Phan on Unsplash