I recently learned a handy little trick for tracking what companies do with your email address when you sign up for their newsletters, or enter a competition, or they find some other way to sucker you in to giving them your personal information. The only requirement for being able to do this is to have your own domain.
I learnt about this tracking method from reading this blog post on Lazygamer and it’s so simple and makes so much sense that I started using it immediately. Basically, any web server will have a ‘catch-all’ email address – what this means is that you can set any of your existing email address to receive emails that are sent to any other non-existent addresses. So, if you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org then I will receive it at my selected catch-all address (I will, of course, immediately block any future emails that are sent to that address).
Practically speaking, how this would work as a form of tracking your email addresses would be for you to sign up for a newsletter using a non-existent email address. For example, if you sign up for a newsletter on the website of Company X just use the email address email@example.com. Emails to this address will be received at your catch-all address and Company X will be none the wiser. Now, a few weeks later you suddenly receive a spam email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org that comes from Company Y – this obviously means that Company X is being underhanded and giving out your email address to whoever they please. With this knowledge (and a few screenshots of the offending email) in hand you can now take to Twitter and decry the services of both Companies X & Y safe in the knowledge that you are entirely justified in your rants. Who knows, maybe one of the companies will apologies to you and sent you free stuff to say sorry.
An alternative would be to use the Gmail ‘+’ trick just add ‘+sometext’ to your Gmail username and you will receive all the emails at your normal Gmail address – however some website don’t allow you to enter email address with the + in it for this very reason.