Your email address is worth more than you think

A woman sits with her feet up on a table with a laptop and a phone in front of her.

Even if your email service is free, it’s likely someone else is making money off of it. Here’s how having a private email address can help.

Your email address says more about you than you realize. It's not just an identifier that lets friends and family contact you—it's also a portal into your online life that companies use to track your activity across the internet.

When you sign up for websites and services, you provide your email to create an account. But many companies also use your email to connect the dots between all the accounts you have and build a profile of your interests, location, and browsing habits. They do this by placing hidden trackers in the emails they send you that report back information about you when you open the message.

These trackers are nearly impossible to spot with the naked eye. They're embedded in images, links, and code within the email and fire off as soon as you view the message. They capture details like your IP address, device info, and the links you click to get a sense of your behaviors and preferences. Some even drop cookies that follow you around the web after you leave your inbox.

All of this data is compiled into an extensive profile of you that companies can then use to target ads or sell to other marketing firms. Your private messages become a window into your digital life that others are peering through without your knowledge or consent.

How do I prevent my email from tracking me?

Many people don’t realize the extent to which their email address is being exploited for surveillance and profiling. If this concerns you, there are a few steps you can take to limit how much of your data is collected through your email:

  • Norton AntiTrack's Private Email feature changes your email address to mask your actual one. It removes hidden trackers in emails you receive to prevent companies from gathering details about you and your online behavior. Your real email address is hidden, but you'll still get messages as usual. By using a private email service like Private Email, you make it much more difficult for companies, scammers, and hackers to build a profile of your online activity and interests. Your personal information stays private instead of being collected and shared without your knowledge or consent.
  • Use a dedicated email service focused on privacy. Private email services don’t scan your emails or store IP addresses and location data. They also offer disposable email addresses you can use for websites and accounts.
  • Enable email tracking protection. Some email services, like Gmail and Outlook, offer options to block hidden trackers in messages. Enable these options to prevent senders from gathering details about your email opening activity.
  • Use an alias or disposable email service. Disposable email addresses, also known as aliases, forward messages to your real inbox. You can create a new alias for each website you sign up for to avoid giving your personal email address.
  • Be selective about what accounts and services get your email address. Only provide your email to companies and organizations you explicitly trust. If an app, website, or service asks for your email but doesn’t need it, either don’t provide it or use a disposable email address.

So there you have it: Your email address isn't just a simple login for sending and receiving messages. It's a gateway into your digital life that's being monitored and monetized in more ways than you probably realize. 

While online tracking and targeted ads certainly have their benefits, it's unsettling to know how much of your personal information and web activity is being gathered and shared behind the scenes. If privacy and control over your data are important to you, it may be worth considering an email service with built-in protections. At the very least, be more thoughtful about what personal details you share via email and be wary of unsolicited messages asking for sensitive info. Your inbox may be open for business, but that doesn't mean you have to give everything away for free.

Emma McGowan
  • Emma McGowan
Emma McGowan is a privacy advocate & managing editor at Gen, formerly a freelance writer for outlets like Buzzfeed & Mashable. She enjoys reading, sewing, & her cats Dwight & Poe.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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