Track spamming companies via alternative gmail addresses
... or how to create unique, trackable gmail addresses
Websites and companies often want your mail address. You could give your real, unaltered mail address, but that way it's quite difficult for you to filter their mail. And it's impossible to see how a certain originator got your address.
For the real one-time only mail, you can use mailinator.com. But what to do with websites and companies that are OK to send you mail, but you want to be able to filter their mail and track whom they have given your mail address to (and possibly block them in an easy way)
The method below describes a handy method how to do that.
Add stuff after a plusYou can enhance your gmail address with '+blabla' before the @. So, if your gmail address is email@example.com, people can also reach you under:
Mail sent to these address will arrive in your mailbox, with a small remark from Google "(Yes, this is you.)"
And as the mail will arrive in your mailbox with the extra '+blabla' still there, you can automagically filter and search on that.
This is a useful method if a website or company wants your mail address: You can easily find mail from them (just search for "companyZ") and you can track whom they are selling / giving away your email address: if suddenly you receive mail from Company M on your mail address jack.rickardson+companyZ@gmail.com, you know Company Z has sold/given your mail address to Company M.
However, there are two problems with this method:
- a lot of websites don't accept a '+' in an email address. They should, as a '+' in an email address is correct, but they don't.
- as soon as a lot of users use this trick, certain companies will probably remove the added '+...' part to avoid 'tracking'
So an alternative is needed.
Alternative: more or less dots
Here's an alternative: dots in your gmail address. The mailbox firstname.lastname@example.org is also reachable via:
- websites will always accepts mail addresses with extra or less dots
- if websites / spammers discover this trick, they could decide to remove all dots, which would make them visible as spammers (assuming you have at least one dot in your gmail address)
The tracking of who is giving your mail address to whom can still be done: if you receive a spam-like or other unexpected message, find your address-with-dots in that mail. Then let Gmail find who first used that mail address ... bingo! If you want to stop that mail or punish the originator, add that address to your block filter.
The number of combinations you can create with extra dots depends on:
- the number of symbols before the @
- the total number of symbols (including extra dos) accepted by mailsystems
- with 10 symbols before the @ (so jackyjohny@) and just "no dot, or one dot" after each symbol, you have 2^10 = 1024 combinations
- with 14 symbols before the @ (so: jackrickardson@), and zero, one or two dots after each symbol, you have 3^14 = 4782969 (almost 5 million) combinations. The longest combination would be 14 * 3 + 9 = 51 symbols: j..a..c..k..r..i..c..k..a..r..d..s..o..n..@gmail.com, which looks quite below the max length limit of an email address.
- you could just put 40 dots before the @gmail.com, and then put 10 letters in random places on the dots there (but of course still in the correct order). I think the number of combinations is 40! / (30! * 10!) = 847 660 528 combinations (847 million!). Explanation:
- Without the constraint of "correct order", you have 40 choices for the first letter, 39 choices for the second letter, ... and 31 choices for the tenth letter. That is 40*39*...*31 = 40!/30! combinations
- With 10 letters, there are 10*9*8 ... *1 = 10! orders possible. However, only one order is the allowed order (the email address).
- So the number of allowed combinations is (40!/30!) divided by 10! or 40!/(30!*10!)
Conclusion: more than enough combinations are available. And because there are so many combinations, you can just randomly make up an gmail address and use that; no administration needed of what you have used where.
Sending with these addresses?
Instead of just filling out such an address variant on a website, you can also send from these addresses:
- First create the address: in the Gmail web interface, go to Setting (on the right upper corner), then to the tab "Accounts and Import", and then select "Add another email address you own". Fill out the gmail address variant (so: with extra dots) you want to use.
- Then, when sending mail, you can select the From address.
DisadvantagesAre there any disadvantages? Yes, there is at least one disadvantage: often your email address is your login username on a website. So if you fill out your address with randomly added dots, you have to remember that address for the next time you log on to that website. Luckily your webbrowser can remember your login for you. And hopefully (!) the website will send a mail to you checking / confirming your registration ... which mail contains the dotted mail address! :-)
With the above method, you can just give your "altered" gmail address to a website or company, but you're still able to filter, track and block them.