When you communicate with people or post online, chances are you don't think twice about sharing your email address. But should you? Is there a way your phone number and address can be tracked by someone who only has your email address?
The short answer is yes. It could be very easy for you to be found by just your email address… or it could be quite difficult. Exactly how difficult it might be depends on three things: how you've used your email address, what information you've put in public places, and whether or not you've broken the law.
You can test the security of your email address by searching for it on the internet. Most search engines don't let you search for your exact email address, as they treat "@" and "." as spaces, but it's still a good place to start (especially if your email address is unique). Now realize that everything your search just returned can just as easily be found by anyone trying to track you down.
The worst case scenario would be a standard "name and address"listing, which includes your name, email address, physical address and phone number.
If this information has been posted online(by you or someone else) then absolutely anyone can find you with a quick and easy search.
If someone is trying to track you down it's more than likely they already know several other things about you in addition to your email address. They probably know your name and at least your general location.
Add those two bits of information and your tracker has even more to go off of.
When it comes to protecting yourself social networking sites are often overlooked. And it's not just Myspace and Facebook- it's other niche sites as well. With any of the information above (usually name and city are enough), there is often a lot of information available to the public. Try this: log out of any social media sites you are a member of, search for yourself by just name and city and see what information is available to anyone about you now.
If you have a fairly unique email address or perhaps unique handle for logging into some sites, people might not only find out where you live, but perhaps also view pictures of you, learn where you work or go to school, and see what sites you've visited recently. And they can do it in about 5 minutes. A more dedicated searcher could find even more.
The real concern is not what people can find, but rather how easy you've made it for them to find it. So what can you do?
Use a "throw-away" email address when doing things like placing ads or using any public site where the contact could eventually lead to meeting new people, or people wanting to find you for some reason. This throw-away address should be completely unique, unrelated to you, and should be created with completely fake information. That way at least the casual searchers will find very little from just that email address.
But what do you do about the not-so-casual searchers?
If you've broken the law even a throw-away email address may not be bullet proof.
Just like IP address tracing, it is possible that in the course of investigating a crime, authorities could use a court order to get additional information from the email service you've used for your throw-away account. They can get the IP address or other information about the computer or location from which the account was created, and they could potentially use it to locate you. It's not something that's taken lightly, but if crime warrants it, it is certainly possible.
The bottom line? Be aware that your email address may not provide you with the anonymity you think; used in conjunction with other readily available information much can be discovered about you. When it's important, risky or otherwise prudent make sure to take steps to appropriately anonymize the trail back to the real you.
Get more free tech help and advice from Leo Notenboom by visiting http://ask-leo.com With over 30 years of industry experience, including an 18 year career as a software engineer with Microsoft, Leo gives real answers to real questions from ordinary computer users at Ask Leo! Subscribe to Leo's weekly newsletter now and receive a free ebook: "Internet Safety – Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet", a collection of steps, tools and concepts you need to know to keep your computer and your information safe.