What are email aliases and why should you use them?
Email addresses have become an invaluable tool for creating an identity on the Internet. Whether you’re buying a gadget from a merchant, creating a Netflix account, or wanting to chat on a forum, you need an email address.
However, it’s not always helpful to give your real address to every site that asks you to. Better not to share anyway. After all, your email address is considered personal information by the CNIL. Therefore, it is good to treat in this way.
Avoiding giving out your real address when buying a jar of jam from a web merchant is beneficial in more ways than one. First, it allows you to avoid being inundated with promotional emails from the merchant in question. Then, in the event of a hack, if your real email address is found in the wild, you can be more easily targeted by phishing or scam campaigns.
To save you from such adventures, you can use a “trash” address to which you forward all your irrelevant emails. However, there is a more practical, safer and more flexible alternative: aliases.
What is an email alias?
Aliases, which have become popular in recent years, are a simple way to protect your real email address from the risks of spam, hacking or espionage. Specifically, it’s a more or less usable address that will redirect incoming emails to your primary inbox while hiding your real email address from the site trying to reach you.
Let’s imagine you need to enter your email address at a web merchant to make your year-end purchases. Instead of sending it to email@example.com, the alias will allow you to register at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latter will forward emails to email@example.com but will never reveal your real address to the e-merchant.
That way, unlike how a trash address works, you won’t need to connect to a second account to collect your mail, and you’ll be protected in the event of a data leak. But email aliases often offer many other functions besides redirection.
What does it mean?
Most platforms that provide aliases allow you to manage your various addresses in more or less detail. Most allow you to delete a nickname when it is no longer needed. If you no longer wish to receive communications from the site, you can simply “kill” the nickname and the redirect will stop immediately. It is more necessary to unsubscribe from any mailing lists: if you delete the nickname associated with the site, the latter will no longer be able to contact you. Some sites also offer to “deactivate” the nickname without removing it to stop the redirects. You can turn it back on the day you need to receive emails from a particular site again.
If you need to reply to an email, some services allow you to use your primary address and forward it to the sender. So, thanks to the return of your e-mail, you can use your real mailbox without fear that the site will restore your address.
Many services also offer to delete cookies that are sometimes embedded in your messages and are designed to tell a site whether you’ve opened its emails. An effective way to restore some privacy. Some platforms allow you to block all promotional emails sent with an alias and let only the ones considered important (order confirmation, payment, etc.) through.
The flexibility of the nickname system also allows you to imagine more advanced uses. So if you create a site for every commercial site you use, the day you get a weird email from a third-party site, you’ll know which site is sharing or reselling your data.
That’s why a good alias service allows you to protect your privacy, avoid data leaks, and add some order to your inbox (a real one this time). However, not all services are created equal. Here is an overview of the four most popular solutions on the market.
DuckDuckGo Email Protection: simple and free
DuckDuckGo, already known for its privacy-friendly search engine, launched its own alias service a few months ago: the aptly named DuckDuckGo Email Protection.
The service is free and open to everyone. Just install the DuckDuckGo mobile app (Android, iOS) or browser extension (Chrome and Firefox), register and… that’s it. Once your primary address is entered, you can create as many aliases as you like from within the app or extension.
However, management options are quite limited. The service forwards mail and blocks email snitches, but that’s about it. You can delete an address by following the link at the top of forwarded emails, but not (easily) disable it.
- Simple and free
- Delete email cookies
- Several management options
- Randomly generated addresses
Firefox Relay: A free solution by Mozilla
You must know Mozilla, at least for the Firefox browser. But the foundation behind the freeware offers many other services, including a VPN and email alias: Firefox Relay.
Firefox Relay has a free offering but is limited to five alias creations. Suffice to say it didn’t go very far. The premium offering allows you to create as many aliases as you want and supports larger attachments. The subscription currently costs €0.99 per month, so it’s worth it if you want to take full advantage of the service.
Firefox Relay has an extension for Chrome and Firefox, allowing you to filter promotional emails, reply through your inbox by masking the address, and easily disable/re-enable your nicknames. All options are controlled from the Mozilla user account control panel. This is also the site that will allow you to create nicknames from your mobile phone.
The premium plan even lets you quickly create addresses using a custom subdomain. No need to create an address from an extension or site; when registering on the platform, you can create an firstname.lastname@example.org by simply typing in the mail field. The nickname will activate and forward your messages from the first email received. This saves time and makes using aliases infinitely easier.
- Simple and complete
- On-the-fly address generation
- Limited free formula
- No mobile app (but website)
SimpleLogin: the most complete and the most secure
You may have heard of SimpleLogin when it was acquired by ProtonMail in early 2022. Developed in France, this service offers one of the most complete nickname solutions on the market and has become even more interesting since its integration with ProtonMail.
Like Firefox Relay, SimpleLogin has a free but relatively limited version. As there are many management options, the service makes full sense with a paid subscription (€30/year). The good news is that ProtonMail subscribers can take advantage of SimpleLogin’s Premium service at no extra cost.
The platform allows you to create random, manual and quick nicknames, reply from your mailbox, use your own domain name for forwarding, create multiple subdomains, customize the display of forwarded emails. In short, you can tweak in all directions for an experience that suits your taste. It is also possible to host the solution on your own server.
The service has a web dashboard, Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox extensions, a mobile app, and seamlessly integrates with ProtonMail boxes (obviously).
- Multiple management options
- Available on all platforms
- It can be intimidating to use, so many options
iCloud Mail: For Apple users
At WWDC 2021, Apple introduced the nickname service integrated into the iCloud+ subscription (from 0.99 euros per month). Anyone who already has an active subscription can take advantage of it.
It’s true that Apple has seamlessly integrated its service into iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. It is possible to easily create nicknames from Safari or Apple’s Mail program, then manage them from the settings of the latter on iPhone, iPad, macOS.
Mail iCloud can also be accessed from iCloud’s web interface (for example, if you’re using an Android smartphone), but it’s more for “capable” devices.
- It is very well integrated with macOS, iOS and iPadOS
- Included in your iCloud subscription
- Mainly designed for Apple devices
- Fewer options than some competitors
Therefore, nicknames allow you to protect yourself from many small daily hassles, but one question remains unanswered? Is it really worth letting a third party handle your email? Are email aliases a good solution to protect our privacy?
It is useful to remember that they should be used primarily for non-essential emails. If you’re registering with a government or other site, it’s best to use your real address (in case something happens to your service alias). But if you only use nicknames for promotional emails, the risk is less.
Then, these services don’t store your emails, they just forward them to your primary mailbox. All promise not to invade your privacy in the process. It’s up to you to believe them or not. You can also check the code of certain services (such as Firefox Relay or SimpleLogin). Most risk-aware platforms are transparent and explain their personal data management policies.
All you need to do is choose a reliable provider and monitor your email.