Fight Spam for $10 a Year
Every website you use wants you to sign up for an account. And that means giving them your email address. Even if they’re a nice, friendly website, chances are you’re going to get unwanted correspondences from them. Who has time for that? I don’t want to archive 20 emails a day that, while they aren’t spam, are of no consequence to me. I really don’t care what someone on Quora thinks of a question I already answered. And I know I placed an order, Amazon; I was the one who placed the order!
Fortunately, there is a solution. More fortunately, I’m going to share it with you. It’s called a catchall email address. You know how when someone sends an email to email@example.com, you receive it? Well, imagine if someone could send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and have it go to you, where anything is anything anything (not literally the word anything). This would give you infinite email addresses! And that means you can create a new one on the fly for every website:
Of course, you can’t use gmail.com since you don’t own that. That brings us to the first step.
Buy a domain
A domain is the thing you type into your browser to get to a website. It’s before the first slash. These are domains: google.com, mylittlepony.com, howtobepatient.com. Domains are cheap. You can get them for around $10/year. And honestly, it’s 2012, you should have a domain. Without one, you’re practically an Internet hobo. So, don’t be homepageless. Buy a domain.
Set up Google Apps
This is a bit technical, but worth figuring out. Google does a good job of making it easy to do. Just follow along with the setup wizard.
Agree to the terms you won’t read and move on to the next step. The Express setup is probably best. It will give you the Google Apps basics, which are nice services, but email is all you should care about for this. You’ll need to verify domain ownership. If you have hosting for the domain, then you can upload an HTML file for verification. Otherwise, you’ll want to select your domain registrar from the list under Alternate Methods and follow the instructions.
Now with your domain verified, you can setup Gmail for your domain. You’ll have to make some more technical updates to your domain, specifically updating the MX records. These are the instructions that your domain gives for email requests. You need them to point to Google’s email servers. Instructions for how to do that can be found here. After configuring your MX records, it’s time to set your catch-all address.
Type your preferred primary email address (you need to have this as an account on Google Apps). This is the address that emails will be sent to when they don’t have a valid address in the system. For instance, if you give your sister the email email@example.com, then any email sent to that will not forward to the catch-all, as it’s a valid email address. But if someone sends an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, then it will go to your catch-all because of the misspelling.
Sign Up for All the Things!
Now that you have the catch-all, you can begin setting up accounts using your new, on-the-fly email addresses. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. They’ll all forward to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, if you sign up for a website that turns out to be spam or they sell your email to naughty third parties or their email list is made public by hackers, you’re in the clear. All you have to do is create a filter for messages to that email address and it’s killed for good. You can delete the emails or just filter them into a label for ignoring.
If you really want to get fancy, you can set filters for all the emails you create. This way you can have an Amazon filter and corresponding label. All Amazon notices skip your inbox, go straight to the Amazon label. You can check them out when you want and ignore them when you don’t care.
My personal secret is that I have two catch-all domains. One is for stuff that might occasionally matter or that I do want to receive communications from, and this email is set to forward to my personal Gmail account. The other one is a throwaway domain that I never, ever log in to except to click confirmation links or find an email when needed. I let this one collect all my Quora alerts, spam from random forums I’ve signed up for and other nonsense. No filters necessary. It all just dumps into the inbox that I rarely see, and it’s there when I need to search for something.
You might have heard of using email@example.com. This is a common technique that’s far simpler to implement, however it does not work quite as well. For starters, spammers know to strip out anything past the plus sign. And secondly, many websites won’t accept addresses containing a plus sign as valid. Trust me, my method is better.