The Norman Transcript

February 15, 2010

Claim your e-mail privacy


Have you ever read a message on a postcard that was not addressed to you? It was right there, in the open, so, how could it have been avoided? Maybe, at least once in your life, you've held an envelope up to the light, hoping to read its contents. Perhaps you were thwarted when you discovered that it was one of those "security" envelopes designed to prevent such snooping. Darn.

Maintaining e-mail privacy on the Internet can be a tough proposition. It's no secret (though, they wish it was) that e-mail providers such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Hotmail and most Internet service providers keep massive records of e-mail information. These records exist even after you have "deleted" this information from your inbox, just in case it might be needed for a government investigation or corporate lawsuit. Government despots and greedy business moguls have proven to have complete contempt for the notions of individual privacy and liberty.

There are many reasons why you might want to maintain e-mail privacy, none of which have to do with trying to hide terrorist activities. These reasons could include the desire to prevent retribution for whistle-blowing, expressing religious or political views, or commenting on the workplace. Maybe you're just tired of getting on another e-mail spam list every time you turn around. Fortunately, there are some easy-to-use tools available that can greatly lower your Internet profile.

One of the coolest tools I've used lately is Mailinator (www.mailinator.com). It seems like every Web site in the world now wants you to give up your precious e-mail address and "register," after which they'll e-mail you your "secret access code," or some other such nonsense. For years, I've maintained a separate e-mail address just for this purpose, knowing that giving out my e-mail address can subject me to a flood of spam. Mailinator makes this address unnecessary, as I can "register" using any wacky e-mail address that I choose, such as, zapadapadoodlehead@mailinator.com. Afterward, I can check my "e-mail" at Mailinator using my new, disposable e-mail address, retrieve my secret access code and go on my merry, spam-free way. It couldn't be simpler.

For more serious applications that can enhance your e-mail privacy, you should look at tools that provide secure, encrypted e-mail services and file storage. Encryption tools turn your e-mail into a secret, James-Bond style garbled code that is decoded by the e-mail recipient. In the not-so-distant past, using e-mail encryption tools was a major pain in the neck, but fortunately, some easy-to-use services now exist. My favorites are Metropipe's Mailvault PGP Webmail (www.mailvault.com) and Hush Communication's Hushmail (www.hushmail.com). Both offer free, encrypted mail services that offer superior e-mail protection and privacy that should suit most anyone. Secure instant messaging also is available, as well as upgraded and enhanced plans for business use and those with special needs. I don't think you can go wrong with either service, and you're bound to find something that meets your privacy needs.

Dave Moore has been repairing computers in Norman since 1984, when he borrowed $1,200 to buy a Commodore 64 system. He can be reached at 919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.