Safeguard Your Email Privacy

What to watch for before giving your email address to a website.

Whenever you hand over your email address to make an online purchase, join a forum or get an email newsletter, there's always a touch of uncertainty about your privacy.

Is that store, website or publisher going to start sending you unwanted emails?

Or worse... will they pass your address around so you end up inundated with spam?

I spoke to Mark Brownlow, publisher of a top industry site on email marketing, to find out what makes a website trustworthy when it comes to safeguarding your email address.

Here's what he told me...

The vast majority of sites are not interested in spamming you. They have too much to lose to make it worthwhile. They respect anti-spam laws and various professional marketing codes which all warn against spamming.

But every flock has its black sheep and there are things you can look for to minimize your chances of getting more junk email.

1. Use your intuition

Sites with good online reputations have much to lose if they're accused of spam. So they're likely to be very careful about how they use your email address.

If you're dealing with a well-known, respected website or one that feels like it cares about its visitors or customers, then they probably follow good email practices.

If a site has a bad customer service reputation or acts unprofessionally in some other way, then chances are they're less respectful of your privacy too.

Use your intuition - does it look like the sort of site that's going to abuse your email address?

2. Check the information they give you at the sign-up page or sign-up form

Ideally, you should find the following:

That lets you make an informed decision about whether you want to hand over your email address or not.

If any of that info is missing, it might just be an oversight (few websites have a lot of email marketing expertise). Or you might be opening yourself up to email abuse.

3. Read the privacy policy small print

Even if a site assures you of your privacy, you should still read their privacy policy in detail.

If there isn't one, or if the privacy policy makes no mention of what happens to email addresses collected by the site, then you should be concerned.

A good privacy policy makes it clear what email addresses are used for and who has access to them. Make sure you're OK with that. In particular, watch for small print stating that your address may be passed on to others.

If your email can be passed on to others, then think very hard about whether you want to submit your email address. Once you do, you have no control over who else might get it and what they might do with it.

Note that some sites say they will, for example, send you offers from partner companies as well as themselves. That's not necessarily the same as passing on your email address. Usually it means they will send emails on behalf of a third-party, but that third-party never gets to see your actual address.

This is often the case when, for example, you sign-up to an industry newsletter. Interspersed with regular newsletter issues, you might get trade advertisements sent to you by the publisher, too.

4. Check how they get your permission to send you emails

Giving out your email address is often a necessary part of some website activity. If you want order confirmations or membership info or an email newsletter, you need to give the site your email address.

When you submit this address, many sites will try and get your agreement to send you other kinds of emails. For example, when you buy a product they might ask if you'd like to get information on future offers related to that product.

How they solicit your agreement is often a good indicator of how respectful they are of your privacy.

In the best case, you have to actively check a box to get added to any new address lists. That means the website really only wants people on their lists who actively want the emails. This is considered a best practice by the professional email marketing community.

If the box is pre-checked, it shows less respect for your views.

Check the wording next to the checkbox carefully. Most sites will ask you to check the box if you want to get something. Some sites will ask you to check the box if you don't want to get any email from them.

The latter practice also shows a lower level of respect for your opinion.

To summarize:


Free Email Address Directory