How to keep your email protected when companies don’t

I got several emails today informing me that several corporations entrusted my data to a contractor with sub par security, my email was compromised, and that they “seriously regret that this incident occurred.” (Hey, Target: nice non-apology. You have the final responsibility to your customers, even when your contractors fuck up.)

Right now, many are fuming over the fact that the spamonauts now have their emails on a “confirmed live and breathing people who need weight loss and boner pills” list. And it will happen again. It’s simply impossible to ensure total privacy of your personally identifiable information.

But me? I just laughed, hit a few buttons in my mail client, and knew I’d never have to worry about some retailer’s mistake. I have a system that over many years has saved me from people who mismanage my identity –and even given me proof positive of the responsible party.

My email address on steroids:

  1. Custom domain
  2. Wildcard forwarding
  3. One address for every vendor
  4. Filter out and publicly shame the offending nincompoops

(Don’t be overwhelmed by this list: it’s a set of tools that you spend maybe 20-30 minutes setting up, and then they work for you for life.)

There are a thousand reasons why every person should have a custom email domain. You change ISPs, you change occupations, free email providers come and go. That clayaikensgrrl05@yahoo.com address isn’t gonna stay stylish, nor look too great on a résumé. Instead, registering your own name means that you are the master of your domain. You can send your email wherever it needs to go – perhaps host it on Google for a while, and then move it over to some server in a bomb shelter when Google Skynet™ rises up against its fleshy oppressors – and nobody has to ever relearn your email address. I’ve moved my mail servers and hosts around 3 times since I started using my own mail domain, and nobody but me has known about it.

But beyond the general reasons why everyone should have their own personal domain, it offers one specific benefit that you can’t get otherwise: wildcard forwarding. This means that anything sent to an address at your domain really forwards to one central email account. With wildcard forwarding, I give each company – or anybody else that I could possibly regret giving my real address – a distinct email address (usually the_company_name@zekespersonaldomain.com.) That way, if the company gets hacked, sells my information, or just plain spams me, I have the option to filter all email from them, and even can look at the “To:” field of a message to determine just who to blame for the unsolicited torrent of sleazy advertising.

Some mail services sell personal domain services out of the box, and make it quite easy. But even without this, you only need two things to get rolling with this system:

  1. A registered domain (do us all a favor and avoid GoDaddy for this)
  2. A service to route and forward your mail (most DNS service providers include this, as do many web hosting plans.)

If you’re just getting started, you can get all of the above arranged with EasyDNS. Just register a domain, enable a “wildcard” or “catch-all” forwarder, and point it to whatever email box you’d like to manage it from. (You can then change where it points later, and nobody will know.)

Yes, it’s a little bit more setup than your typical email account. But it creates so much more flexibility, reliability, and even enhances your own personal brand. It’s a shame that so few people even know it’s possible.