Psst! Want 1,000 'disposable' e-mail addresses?

Well, what if every e-mail sender had 1,000 'disposable' addresses at his or her disposal?

Personally, I'm not sure if this would be a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing, but we're about to get a clue come Monday when Anonymizer announces its latest product, Anonymizer Nyms, which the company is touting as the answer to virtually all evil that lurks upon the Internet. The news comes hard on the heels of another potentially troublesome messaging innovation called VaporStream, which promises users the ability to conduct clandestine electronic exchanges that purportedly leave no trace of a record.

What's a 'disposable' e-mail address? According to the Anonymizer press release:

"Anonymizer Nyms redirects all incoming e-mail to a user’s primary address. This makes it easier to manage than creating second, third or fourth e-mail accounts that keep people checking multiple e-mail boxes. … Customers can maintain their privacy by using anonymous Nyms e-mail addresses with untrusted sources. For example, if they want to comment on an article, check on the status of an order, or request more information from a vendor’s sales department, they can use an anonymous Nyms e-mail address to keep their personal one protected."

(Let's overlook the fact that news sites are lumped in with the untrustworthy.)

Generally speaking, you can count me among those who believe there's already too much anonymity on the Internet, but I'd be fibbing if I didn't cop to being annoyed by the prospect of dropping my home or work e-mail address on every Web site that requires registration. And, yes, those extra addresses we all maintain for such purposes are difficult to track and easy to let lapse.

So what's wrong with plunking down $20 for a year's worth of Nyms? "Easy to set up and manage, users can create up to 1,000 disposable e-mail addresses each," a company spokesman tells me. "If you like, you can create one for each site you visit and track those that abuse the information."

 The press release promises users that Nyms will "protect their personal accounts against spam and -- even more importantly -- the digital threats that go along with it, such as viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, phishing and pharming fraud, and static cling." Fanciful stuff, but that's what marketers do … and I made up the bit about static cling.

But isn't this a tool that spammers themselves will find useful?

The spokesman has an answer that sounds reasonable: "There are constraints built into the system that deter spammers. For example, users are limited to 200 e-mails/day max; 30 e-mails/hour max; 5 e-mails/minute max; 10 recipients/e-mail max."

What about corporate e-mail managers and regulatory compliance officers? Certainly they aren't going to cotton to their charges taking on a thousand different aliases out there in e-mail land.

"There aren't any issues with Nyms and corporate e-mail accounts," the spokesman assures us. "Users can have their Nyms e-mails forwarded to any e-mail account they wish. It's possible that the IT department could block access to Nyms, but that's unlikely. This is also a useful solution for companies that want employees to disassociate the company from personal activities as well."

Feeling assured?

But let's grant that we all find the need now and then to create a special-purpose e-mail address that won't add to the daily torrent of spam or mix our personal and private business.

Who needs 1,000 of them?

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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