This article is sponsored by Fastmail and was reviewed before publication. Fastmail is a Technical.ly Talent Pro client.
According to Fastmail’s chief operating officer, Helen Horstmann-Allen, our email address is our identity, and often the key to all of our other online services.
“If a large company like Target has a data breach, whoever did it now has access to your password, purchase history, credit card information and home address,” she said.
Big tech companies like Google offer email for free, but the true cost is that they own and can sell your data to whomever they want. Fastmail is a privacy-focused email provider that offers features like alternative and masked email addresses to protect its users from tracking, unwanted ads, data leaks and spam.
Privacy is especially important when you consider how difficult it is to regain control once your data has been compromised.
“Email is a gateway to finding our sensitive information,” said Fastmail’s chief of staff, Nicola Nye. “Although many governments are developing support lines to help people whose identity has been stolen, the process can take time, and the outcomes aren’t guaranteed.”
Before you race to change your passwords, read on to find out what Horstmann-Allen and Nye had to say about email security awareness, how to protect yourself and the future of email.
Why do you think we don’t hear very much about how vulnerable people’s email addresses are?
Nye: Email safety and its associated risks doesn’t make for interesting news, at least not until a few thousand email addresses are breached and sensitive health and/or banking information is stolen.
The problem starts with helping people see that their email is worth protecting. We hear things like:
- “The bad guys are welcome to pay my phone bill”
- “Who’d want all my cat pictures anyway?”
- “They can read all my newsletters if they want”
Alternatively, many email users assume that they are powerless to stop the misuse of their email addresses. They know the risks and either:
- Don’t know how to keep their email safe, or
- Assume that it takes a lot of effort to stay secure
Both of these factors make it hard for educators and reporters to spread awareness about ways you can keep yourself safe online.
What are the risks of personal email addresses that readers need to understand?
Horstmann-Allen: Your email is your username all over the internet. Every time you use your email, you risk putting a portion of your life and your identity in someone else’s hands. If a company like Twitter changes ownership or its policies, you risk losing control of your data.
Nye: A compromised email, along with a stolen social security number, are keys that fraudsters use to steal someone’s identity.
Hackers can lock out the account holder, and it can be a lengthy and often frustrating process to reclaim access. During this time, thieves use the account to help them impersonate someone and cause long-term damage at a high cost.
What do you think the future of email addresses will be?
Nye: For the past few decades, email was extremely personal. It was really only given out to people you knew directly. Today, we get more messages from numerous contact lists, and there are more integrations and verifications taking place over email.
Looking ahead, email will continue to grow, but your control over it will expand. Today we have filters to potentially block spam, but machine learning will create smart ways to find the needle in the haystack and control what actually reaches users. Additional technologies like aliases, smart screening and assisted search are already in use today, and will continue to expand in use and complexity as time goes on.
What is the benefit of using multiple email addresses?
Horstmann-Allen: Using different email addresses and usernames helps keep hackers from matching your data across the internet. If you use multiple emails, they can’t access all of your information, just what is associated with the one email they hacked.
Nye: People want the ability to segment parts of their life: work life, home life, salsa-dancing club, online gaming league. Each part of life corresponds to a different email address.
Email addresses can also be made unique to each organization or company who asks for registration information. You can create single-use individual email addresses to online services that are trying to build customer profiles and send out lots of emails asking you to purchase their products or services.
Q. What are masked emails and online aliases and why should we use them?
Horstmann-Allen: Masked emails and aliases hide your email address so that when you sign up for online services or a brand’s subscriber list, they don’t see your actual email. It’s a great way to protect your account and control how much data you’re giving away.
Nye: The best part is these addresses are separate from someone’s login details, which provides better security for the email account.
How does Fastmail reduce these risks to one’s online identity? How is it different from other private email companies?
Nye: Privacy concerns are at the core of our product decisions and our entire decision-making process. To give our customers better control over their online identities, Fastmail is bringing many of these new address management tools to market faster.
We use a realistic privacy approach. Most people don’t need to think about hiding the contents of their emails from the government, but they might need to worry about being targeted by advertising execs and data analytics companies who want to monetize them.
We provide the balance between the privacy features most people need and deserve and the feature-rich experience that lets customers make the most of their email.
Knowledge is power!
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