Ever since I discovered email aliases, I rarely use my personal email address to sign up to new websites and online services. When I receive mail from those services, it goes straight into a folder assigned to an alias. This has brought down spam and phishing emails in my main inbox to almost zero. 

My online privacy has improved significantly because of this little tweak. Not only that, I've been able to organize my inbox more effectively. In this post, I'm going to explain what an email alias is, its benefits, how to use them, and more. 

What is an email alias?

An email alias is an additional email address that receives emails on behalf of your primary email address. It's not a separate email account.In fact, most email services that allow you to create an alias usually let you create it as though it's part of your account settings. For example, in Proton Mail, you can launch its email aliasing tool by clicking an icon that’s just right beside your main inbox. 

Screenshot of a dialog box where you create aliases on Proton Mail.

Emails received by an alias are instantly forwarded to your primary address. In the diagram below, johndoe@proton.me is the main email address, while the other four are email aliases. 

To send emails from an alias, you can usually choose your desired alias from a drop-down list when you compose an email. The screenshot you see below is from Gmail. Other email services let you configure that in your email settings. You can specify which alias will send email by default. 

I usually create multiple aliases for different purposes. It’s like having multiple email addresses and using different email addresses for different services. For example, you might use one alias for e-commerce sites, another for newsletter subscriptions, another for social media sites, and so on. You might even use one alias per service, as shown in the diagram above. Services that you sign up for using aliases won't know your primary email address. They'll only know your email aliases. So how is this a good thing?

Before we get to that, I’d like to talk about the crucial role email addresses play in our online security. 

Your primary email address and your online identity

 What is the main function of your email address? If you say it's for communicating with other people, I suggest you check your inbox right now. How much of it is actually email coming from people you want to communicate with? Chances are, a sizable portion of your inbox is taken up by spam or junk mail. Some of those junk mails could even be phishing emails. 

The reason your inbox is filled with junk is because the people who send junk mail know your email address. How did they get it? Well, some hackers might have stolen it through a cyber attack. Others might have obtained your email address from past data breaches. That said, not everyone who has your email address had to struggle to get it. In many cases, you may have just willingly shared your email address with them. 

Whenever we sign up for a service, one of the first pieces of personal data we submit is our email address. In fact, in some cases, that's the only thing we ever submit. For example, in the screenshot below, the sign-up form doesn’t even require the customer’s name. We encounter this time and time again. We submit our email address when we sign up for an online newsletter, a social media platform, an e-commerce site, and so on. For this reason, it has become a key identifier of our online identity. 

A sign-up form that requires an email address

Companies that collect personal information from various sites use this identifier to stitch together our online data and online activities. These companies are called data brokers. Through our email address, data brokers know what sites we visit, the products we buy, the comments we post, and so on. Data brokers package all this information together to create our online profiles. They then sell these profiles to their customers. These could be marketers, researchers, and advertisers. But they could also be cybercriminals pretending to be legitimate businesses.  

By using information attached to our profile, organizations can target us more effectively. For example, they can send us more convincing spam or phishing emails. Once we're convinced by an email, we could end up clicking a link, filling out a form, or downloading an attachment. At that point the marketer, spammer, or hacker would have achieved their goal at the expense of our privacy. 

Tip: If you want to delete your personal data from data broker sites, the fastest and easiest way is to subscribe to a data removal service

So how do you fix the problem I described above? The answer is simple. You must limit use of your primary email address to essential communications. First of all, you must stop using it to sign up or register for anything. Instead of using your real email address, you should use email aliases. You can still share your real email address to people you want to communicate with. For the rest, you can just give them your email aliases.

Benefits of using email aliases

Let’s now dive into the benefits of adopting email aliases, a simple yet powerful tool that not only enhances your online security but also significantly reduces unwanted emails in your inbox. 

Protects your primary email address and online profile

Email aliases allow you to hide your main email address. If you sign up for a new service using only an alias, that new service and the things you do there won't be associated with your online profile. To data brokers and other data aggregators, you’ll be an entirely different user. This means you'll be doing things in complete anonymity. The more aliases you use, the more difficult it will be for organizations to track you.

Serves as a temporary email address

Companies that offer free trials often ask us to submit our email address. It gives them a way of contacting us even after the free trial has ended. To avoid pesky follow-up emails, you can simply submit an email alias. An alias can serve as a temporary address that you can easily delete once you've gained access to the free trial. 

Screenshot of Box's free trial form. It requires an email address.

Reduces spam in your inbox

When you use email aliases as temporary addresses, it reduces the amount of spam that reaches your inbox. You normally delete temporary addresses once you're done testing a trial product or service. As soon as you do that, emails sent to that address can no longer reach you. The same principle holds true for more permanent aliases as well. Once you start noticing spam being sent to an alias, you can simply delete that alias. Since an email alias isn't as important as your main email address, deleting it shouldn't be an issue. 

Organizes your inbox

Many email services that support aliases also support filters. You can create filters that sort incoming emails according to their email addresses. In this case, the email addresses in question would be your aliases. So, all emails sent to a specific alias would be directed to a specific folder. This way, your inbox will be more organized. 

Types of email aliases

Email aliases come in different forms. For example, some aliases, like trevor+subs@proton.me, simply add a plus sign to your username. Others allow you to use a new username and create more unique email aliases like myaddressforsubs@proton.me. Each type of email alias has its own strengths and weaknesses. Let's talk about some of the most common types of aliases now. 

Aliases with a plus sign (+)

Email addresses with a plus sign are technically known as “email subaddresses”. However, many people call them “+aliases”. As the name suggests, these types of aliases have plus signs on them. So, for example, if my email address is trevor@travelsecurely.com, an example of a +alias would be trevor+subs@travelsecurely.com. Another would be trevor+sales@travelsecurely.com. Popular email services like Proton Mail and Gmail offer these types of aliases. 

Just bear in mind that tech savvy users can easily identify your real email address from a +alias. All they have to do is remove the plus sign as well as the characters between the + sign and the @ sign. For example, if you apply that to trevor+subs@travelsecurely.com, you get trevor@travelsecurely.com. 

Aliases with different usernames

If you prefer an alias that doesn't contain your real email address, then one with a different username should do the trick. Not only does this option make it more difficult for other users to guess your real email address, it also looks more professional. Let's say my real email address is tjames@proton.me. I could have aliases like travelsecurelynews@proton.me or travelsecurelysales@proton.me. 

Aliases using a custom domain

Some email providers allow you to create aliases with your own domain. So, for example, if my official email address is tjames@travelsecurely.com, I can use sales@travelsecurely.com or support@travelsecurely.com as aliases. Using a custom domain as an alias is even more professional than using an email provider’s domain, like proton.me or gmail.com. Both Proton Mail SimpleLogin aliases and Gmail aliases support custom domain aliases. StartMail and Tutanota offer custom domain aliases as well. 

How to create an alias

While the concept of using aliases might sound too technical, it's not. Let me show you how easy it is to add aliases using two popular email providers: Gmail and Proton Mail.

How to create email +alias in Gmail

1. Login to your Gmail account.

2. Click the gear icon on the upper-right corner of the page and then click See all settings.

Cropped screenshot of the Gmail inbox

3. Go to the Accounts and Import tab and then down to the Send mail as section.

4. Click Add another email address

5. A new tab should open, and you should see something like the screenshot below. Enter an appropriate title into the Name field and then specify an email alias into the Email address field. If you’re just using the default email address from your Gmail account, make sure the username before the (+) sign is actually yours. 

6. Click the Next Step button and then follow any remaining instructions on the screen.

Note that Gmail aliases aren’t Google accounts. That means you can’t sign in to Gmail or any Google service using these aliases. You can only use them to send and receive email. 

How to create email alias in Proton Mail

1. Login to your Proton Mail account

2. Go to the right side of the page, click the Security Center icon, and then click New alias.

Screenshot of a Proton Mail inbox

3. Enter a title that represents the website or websites you’ll be using this email alias for. For example, I entered eBay. I also entered a note at the bottom, that further explains where I’ll be using this alias. 

4. Click the Create and copy alias button to create the alias.

FAQ

Keeping your email address off social media is one way to prevent spam. It also prevents cyber attacks. Your email address is an essential part of your identity on the internet. But it also provides a way for spammers and hackers to contact potential victims. If you display your email address on social media, attackers can easily see them and will know how to reach you. 

Aliases are generally hard to spot. Most of them look like any regular email address. Perhaps the only exception are those +aliases. Any user familiar with aliases can easily identify them. But for most aliases, they’re hard to spot. This is exactly why aliases are effective in hiding our real email address. 

Yes, email aliases are completely safe. You can create alternate email addresses using aliases without suffering any consequences. All emails sent to your alias will still arrive at your inbox. But at the same time, you can keep your real address confidential. 

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TREVOR JAMES

Full Time Digital Nomad

About The Author

Hi! I’m Trevor James, a Canadian YouTuber who travels the world full-time. I make videos about food, travel, and cybersecurity. I have been traveling the world and making videos for over 10 years. You can read more about me here.

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