Using Multiple Email Accounts for Privacy
Using one email address for everything can be a vulnerability for privacy and security. Our email address often becomes our username by default when we sign up for online services. This means a hack of one such a service would give interested parties half of your login details—your username— across all other services you have signed up for.
Secondly, if you use one email address for everything, then all your online interactions can be tied to that address. The single email address becomes a proxy for your identity, tying your interests, your concerns and all the purchases you do and services you use to it.
A good first step, therefore, is to use different email addresses for different purposes.
Private personal email: Tutanota
I began using multiple email addresses while investigating privacy-preserving email companies. I describe that process here. Before deciding on Tutanota, I created several trial accounts with a range of email providers, including Protonmail and Startmail. This made me realise that operating several email accounts simultaneously is both doable and advantageous.
Once I decided on Tutanota as my main email for personal use, I began the quite slow and tedious process of migrating to my new account, letting friends and family know, and changing some of the login details with online services.
At this point, I realised that setting up a new email for personal use provided an opportunity to separate personal email traffic and 'business' email. I could simply limit who I shared my new address with, and continue using the existing mainstream email addresses (Microsoft, Gmail) for commercial and other uses. This began a separation of my online identity into separate categories, namely my private, personal self, and my consumer, subscriber self.
Dedicated email addresses for commercial use
One advantage to signing up for products, shops, mailing lists, online learning, and government platforms with a non-personal email address is that all of the newsletters, updates and spam don't clutter up your personal email inbox. It gives you a feeling of control, and reduces the day to day management of labelling spam and junk mail.
It can be argued that having just one email address for commercial use does create a fixed point online profiling all your interests, but keeping all of those interactions in a separate box to your important personal interactions feels like a good first step. Logically, creating additional unique email addresses for different purposes would be better, but I can also see that that might feel cumbersome to many. A simple separation into two online identities is an improvement.
Keeping work and personal life separate through email
A further split of my online life was essentially already in place. My work has provided me with a gmail address managed by the organisation. Whereas in the past I was more lenient in including my personal email account into work-related messages, I now became more vigilant and aimed for a total separation of the two identities. So now my online identity was split three ways: personal, commercial, professional.
What really helped maintain the separation from work was that I began to used dedicated devices for work, and stopped logging in onto online work spaces from personal devices.
While having them may be tempting for many, I recommend deleting any work-related apps and logins from your smartphone. If your work requires you to be contactable, then using different profiles on your smartphone could be an option for separation.
Using email aliases tied to one user
When I began a Premium subscription with Tutanota, I noticed it came with the option of 5 extra email addresses. These are called 'aliases'. It was unclear at first what this was for, but then I realised that these aliases could be used to further separate my online identity into fragments.
An alias is a new email address, followed in this case by @tutanota.com, which all connect to my main inbox. It could look like this:
email@example.com (main account)
firstname.lastname@example.org (1st email alias)
email@example.com (2nd email alias)
firstname.lastname@example.org (3rd email alias)
email@example.com (4th email alias)
firstname.lastname@example.org (5th email alias)
Email traffic from all five aliases comes into the inbox of my main account. But the companies I use the 'iloveshopping' address with only see the alias, never the main account. The fact that all five email aliases point to the same user is only visible to me. If I name the aliases carefully, then nothing can tie them to my identity.
Tutanota's user interface makes sending from an alias instead of your real account very easy: there is a drop-down tool under the 'Sender' bar, and clicking on it lists all your aliases. You can also turn off individual aliases in the settings menu, temporarily suspending that account. With higher payment tiers, you get more aliases.
Email aliases—I Contain Multitudes
For many normal users, the level of online identity fragmentation using separate email addresses I have described above should be manageable. For those who want more control and greater fragmentation, a dedicated email aliasing product like SimpleLogin provides a solution.
I don't yet use Simple Login, but can briefly describe what it does here. Please see Documentation section below for more thorough articles on this topic.
A dedicated email aliasing platform such as SimpleLogin enables you to create a unique email address for every service you sign up for. So if I have an Amazon account, I could create an email address with a totally random username like 'x45zy' just for Amazon. The advantage then is that your online identity is now as fragmented as is possible. Email aliasing also gives you full control over spam, as you can kill any one address by flicking a switch next to that email account; you no longer have to unsubscribe or log in to a particular service to change your settings with them.
Not having used this before, I wonder what managing this many email accounts feels like in practice. I am not 100% convinced that I need to go this far in separating my accounts, but would like to try it out one day.
Separating personal and consumer accounts is effective, it makes checking the inbox of the account for commercial less compelling, which may lead to missing important or urgent information.
Tutanota's aliases work really well, but you do have to pay close attention in selecting your alias and not sending something off by accident from your main personal account, defeating the purpose of using aliases. Once you have started a thread, however, further replies are automatically sent from the alias, so you only have to pay close attention when starting a conversation thread.
I once deactivated an alias and forgot all about it. This caused a panic when I later tried to log onto a website where I had used that alias as my username. It took me days to figure out what had happened, but it's a mistake you'll only make once.
Finally, while separating work and personal life through emails is effective, it does cause problems when you see something online that you will want to use at work. Powering on the work device just to find that same resource and bookmark it or send it to myself is impractical.
The only solution I can think of is to mail my work self and email from my personal self. It might be a better idea to create a Tutanota alias just for this purpose, but I have used up my five, and you can't reset them. A second workaround is to use my Nextcloud server and create a work profile there, using Nextcloud as a go-between.
Current use and looking ahead
I currently use Tutanota for personal email communication, several mainstream accounts (Microsoft, Gmail) for consumer emails, work email for work, and my five Premium aliases for dedicated services.
I have noticed some email subscribers to this blog use an aliasing platform, with some reference to 'theprivacydad' in the email address. I think I will have to try a service like SimpleLogin for myself to see if the balance between greater privacy and multiple accounts management is worth it.
Using an email aliasing service article by Seth for Privacy
What is an email alias and how it protects your privacy by SimpleLogin
Email alias: How do email aliases add to my security and how do I use them? by Tutanota
The line "I contain multitudes" comes from Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself, 51".
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