26: Use a disposable email address carefully

We examine the use of disposable email address services. For the purpose of minimizing spam to your regular email inbox while reducing the proliferation of your usual email address, choose and use a disposable email address carefully, for the limited use cases described here.


Disposable email address

When would you use a disposable email address?

A disposable email address, also known as a throw-away or temporary email address, is one that is short-lived for temporary use. There are many websites that require you provide them an email address that they then verify before they allow you to continue with your site visit, but you may be hesitant to provide your real personal or professional email address.


Sample use cases are as follows:


  1. You wish to access a blog, website, forum, or poll without being bombarded with spam

  2. You want to open a trial account to evaluate a product or service online, without being nagged afterward with promotional emails

  3. You are a website or app owner and need to test it with multiple fake user emails

  4. You need an anonymous email account to send a one-time email message that does not link back to you, such as for a product evaluation or for a letter of complaint.

Note that these examples have somewhat different characteristics.

  • In the first two cases, you basically need an email address to live just long enough to receive an emailed registration confirmation from the requesting website. In most cases you can receive this message on the website of the temporary email service provider, click on the link to verify the email address, and that fulfills the needs of the website you are visiting. Your goal in the first two cases is to enhance privacy by minimizing spam and minimizing the spread of your real email address.

  • For use case example 3 above, you may need the temporary email addresses to last a number of days before it is destroyed.

  • For use case #4, you need an email service that lets you send, and not just receive email, as well as a temporary email service that does not collect any personal information when you sign up, so correspondence cannot be traced back to you. This is different from the other 3 sample use cases, and is also different from permanent encrypted secure email services, such as ProtonMail or Tutanota, reviewed in a previous post.

Common functionality of disposable email address services

Most of the services listed further below have the following common functionality:

  • You go to their website where you choose (e.g., PinkPandaPassesPodunk@provider.com) or are assigned a complex email address (e.g., jfjaeiogubifkwlwlrugi32344@ajeibl.com)

  • In most, but not all, cases, you are not prompted for personal information

  • You can use the service to receive (and in a few cases to send) email messages that you can check on the site

  • The email messages and/or account are destroyed after some set amount of time

They enhance privacy in that you can use the temporary email address instead of your real one, and thus avoid spam and your actual email address proliferating. On the other hand, assume that the content of the messages is anything but private. Some services (e.g., Mailsac or Mailinator), in fact, tell you that the random email addresses’ inboxes are publicly accessible if someone can guess or accidentally bump into the email address (in many such temporary email addresses, there is no password).


So the bottom line is that disposable/temporary email addresses are not for use cases with sensitive content, nor for use with any website where there is an ongoing relationship, such as a subscription service or a permanent account with a company, because these emails are generally destroyed (more on timetable for this, below).


Divergent functionality

Temporary or disposable email services vary in functionality, too:

  • Most auto-delete your inbox after a set time (e.g., 10MinuteMail, GuerrillaMail, ThrowAwayMail), while with others you can specify the lifespan (e.g., Jetable up to a month)

  • Many temporary email services are for receiving only (10MinuteMail, Maildrop) vs. others that can send mail as well as receive (GuerrilaMail, Mailinator, EmailOnDeck)

  • Some services, such as E4ward or GishPuppy, offer a different flavor of service: they forward incoming email for a list of email addresses (aliases) you choose on to your real email address. So you do provide the vendor personal information in the form of your real email address, but have the convenience of not having to check email at yet another site, and you can cancel any alias selectively.

  • Some offer multiple aliases (different temporary email addresses for the same email service account) vs just one

  • Only some support attachments

  • Many services are free for a basic package, while more advanced functionality (e.g., ability to send or add attachments) is fee-based

Reviews of disposable email services

Third-party reviews of disposable email services can be found as follows (we receive no compensation from any of these reviewers):

Sample disposable email address services

Sample disposable email service providers are listed below with links to their provider (we receive no compensation from any vendor). The ones listed are reviewed by one or more of the first four review articles cited above; the ones in bold-face are reviewed by at least two of those four review articles.

Some other cautions

  • Some people use a separate Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account dedicated to junk-mail or the use cases above, but it should be noted that such services do request and collect personal information, including meta-data, such as date/time sent, to/from whom sent, IP address, etc.

  • If you wish to send an anonymous email from such a service, then check that the chosen service does not require you to provide any personally-identifying information that can be traced back to you

  • You need to assume that all these disposable email services do not protect your email content; in fact, some warn you that the content is in the public domain. Therefore, they detract from privacy in the sense of not guarding your content. They help privacy only in the sense of reducing spam and proliferation of your real email address. So choose your use cases carefully.

  • Some large sites have fought back by refusing to let you register on their site with an email address provided by these disposable email address services. So if you are blocked from using sites such as these, try an alternate disposable email service.

Take-Away


Use a temporary or disposable email address with caution. They can be valuable as a means to reduce spam and protect your real email address when there is a one-time need for an email address and any message content to be transmitted is not sensitive.

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