Email has been a part of our lives for many years now. In the beginning of the Internet we [geeks] used email to inform the person running their server or BBS (bulletin board service) that we were looking for certain programs or files, and in turn we would also let them know what files we had to share. Email was simple and it was safe.
Email has come a long way since those days and many types of email programs have shown up since then. With the growth of the Internet and email services also came the growth of users on the Internet. Growth in numbers yes, but not the growth of responsible computer geeks using the services. Today, with the simplicity of the Graphical Interface built into our computers, anyone with zero experience using a computer can surf the web and email their friends and family. Even a 10 year old can use a computer to surf the web.
Here-in lies the problem of today’s discussion. Persons of ill repute conduct “data mining” by preying on the inexperienced users of the Internet to mine their data from and use that data to spread viruses and spam advertise. Security holes are exploited very easily but most importantly, the number of people freely and innocently disclosing private email addresses due to basic computer inexperience, is out of control in epidemic proportions.
Here is an example of how it happens:
Sally Smith has had a computer for about 6 months and though she hasn’t had it very long has managed to make use of it to accommodate her need of being in touch with her friends and family. Sally uses a messenger like MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger and she emails all her friends and family quite frequently. When Sally first got her computer, her emails resembled an actual letter to a friend or family member depicting how her day went and how frustrating the organization of the PTA meetings have become and so on. It is now 6 months later and Sally has hundreds of email addresses of friends and family, and her emails have declined to a majority of forwarding chain letters, spreading urban legends (unintentionally of course because she doesn’t know how to verify the validity of urban legend emails she receives before forwarding them on), forwarding cool web sites she has visited, and sending photos of the family pet and the new quilt she just made. Sally’s emails look like this:
From: Sally Smith <email@example.com>
To: Joe Public <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Jane Doe <email@example.com>, (insert 74 more friends and family members)
Subject: <fwd><fwd><fwd>Mickey and Minnie Mouse are brother and sister, not boyfriend and girlfriend.
Message: (insert urban legend)
The problem with Sally’s email is that emails are typically passed along to hundreds of more friends that Sally doesn’t know, and that hundred or so friends each pass it along to hundreds of their friends, and so on. Now literally thousands of people Sally will never know, have her email address, AND all the email addresses of her friends AND family. Why? Because Sally is not experienced in the basic use of the Internet and not educated on maintaining privacy and securing the privacy of her friends and family members over the Internet.
The very first order of business is to obtain a free “virtual email” address such as hotmail, or yahoo, or any one of a large list of other virtual email providers. A virtual email address is your security door on the Internet. Sally provided her ISP assigned email address giving data miners her general physical location. Using the virtual email address protects the privacy of your ISP assigned email address. From the Virtual email you can view your mail on the web, keep it stored on the web or download it into your favorite email program on your computer (commonly called POP mail forwarding).
The second and most important order of business, is protecting your friends and family’s privacy by using BCC (blind carbon copy) to send or forward email to. Sally publicly sent all those email addresses over the web which will get sent all over the world. When sending an e-mail to multiple recipients, you can hide their e-mail addresses from each other. This is a sensible anti-spam precaution because it avoids making a long list of e-mail addresses available to all the recipients.
Here is how you use BCC:
To set up Blind Carbon Copy in Outlook 2000, select “Bcc Field” from the “View” menu, as shown below. This will cause the “Bcc:” field to be displayed from this moment on.
To use Blind Carbon Copy in Outlook Express, choose “All headers” from the “View” menu. This will cause the “Bcc:” field to be displayed from this moment on.
Now for actually using BCC in your emails. I have found the most effective way to send email and protect your privacy, your friend’s privacy and that of your family, is to use a dummy virtual email. I created a free email account called e(dot)dump@**********(dot)com. [For this post I used the word (dot) instead of the actual punctuation mark to prevent email harvesting.] Every single email I send anywhere is addressed to this virtual email address. Every single email that goes to this email address gets deleted/trashed without question. Then the actual people I want the email to go to besides the e.dump address gets put in the BCC: field, and the message is filled in accordingly.
If you are forwarding a message, do not use “forward” or “forward message.” Take the extra time to copy the portion of the email you want to forward, then create a new message to yourself (or a dummy email address like I created), paste the message into the message field, then add the addresses of the people you want to receive the email, into the BCC: field.
When your email is received, it should look something like this:
You will notice that all the important information is left out of the email, such as ALL email addresses, yours, your friend’s, and your family’s.
Now you can go to your dummy email account at the end of the day or week and delete everything in it, unless you want to save it all as your sent emails.
The most important thing you want to remember is, an email is like a phone number. If you are in the habit of keeping your phone number and other phone numbers private, so should you be in the habit of doing the same with email addresses.
If this information was helpful, please leave a comment saying so, and if you have any suggestions or care to add something, please do that as well.