Today I made a startling discovery (sarcasm here of course). Nothing is private on the Internet. Very naïve, I know. I’ve had the same email address at caledonia.net for something like twelve years, and so it’s not surprising that my address is EVERYWHERE on the Internet. But if you look closely, it’s not available in the past few years except by accident. We have public addresses like info, sales, etc., but I try to keep my email address somewhat private on the Web just to avoid spam.
Today I found out that a mailing list, of which I’ve been a member for many years, is sending a “tweet” each time a message is posted. I know it must have sounded like a “cool” idea at the time it was implemented, but in so many ways it’s very uncool. Here are a few problems with this.
- The message contains only header information, so there is no “content” really to the tweet. It contains only the subject line, the sender and the date/time of the message.
- But more importantly, the message contains the full name and email address of the original poster.
So, I created a new account on a public mail system to subscribe to this mailing list. Within minutes of posting my first message with this account (which was forwarded on to Twitter), I received a spam message from “Twit With Ease ~ Twitter Tips” congratulating me on subscribing to their Twitter Tips Newsletter. Of course I never subscribed to such a thing, and the only two places this email account have ever been seen (and only in the past hour or so) were on the mailing list and on Twitter.
Now, some people who I’ve been discussing this with say “No big deal if your email address gets harvested. You have good anti-spam filters.” It’s true enough that I have good anti-spam filters. However, I don’t see any need for my server to have to work so hard to keep my email box clean. If I can get a spam message to a harvested email account on Twitter only minutes after first appearing there, then how much more spam should I expect to this account?
I think the lesson here is that there is a lot of “cool” stuff available in social networking. However, some ideas sound good initially, but have greater negative ramifications than their potential benefits.
Just a quick additional anecdote to think about: i recently set up a spam trap domain for a site i support, and i published some addresses on it to an unobtrusive page on their web site. Within 24 hours i had a set of four attempts at sending spam to the domain. I have not seen any attempted spam to the domain since. Kinda weird.
P.S. The email address i entered on this comment box is a unique one for this site. 😉