Why You Should Be Scared of Your Email Address

Nowadays email addresses are needed for pretty much everything online, from signing up to social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter to providing an email for your online shopping. Everyday people enter their email addresses into websites without even stopping to think what information about themselves they are giving away so readily. People commonly just assume that as long as they tick the box saying they do not wish to have their information passed on to third parties and agree to the privacy policy, that everything must be fine and their online privacy is actually pretty decent.

Oh how wrong they are.

Using only an email address people can find out heaps of information about you online. Each time a person enters their email on to a website in order to sign up for an account or to receive a newsletter it leaves a digital trail that is easily traceable, leaving private information about yourself wide open to the public. Want to know how much information about yourself that people can gather just from knowing your email address? Read on.

There are many search engine type websites, both free and paid, that with a just a simple search of your email address can bring back a lot of data about you. The example that I will use is a site called pipl.com. Pipl works by searching something known as the ‘Deep Web’, which has been estimated to be 500 times the size of the surface web. The deep web is described as a vast repository of content and documents that general web crawlers cannot reach. Put in a much simpler way, it searches parts of the web that search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing cannot reach. This is because personal profiles, public records and other related documents are stored in databases not on a web page itself.

By typing an email address into Pipl a wide variety of information is brought up. You can enhance a Pipl search greatly by entering a location to narrow down the result (that is if you know the location of the owner of the email). Information brought back from the email address will be things such as social media sites linked to that email address such as Bebo, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. Other accounts that are not social media based such as Ebay, or mentions of a person in newspaper articles and the like, can easily be uncovered. From this information, is it often easy to narrow down a person’s location, family members and even place of study or work,

By simply searching with your email address, people really can find information you had forgotten you had even put on the web. Old accounts from your teenage years (when privacy worries were almost non-existent) that you had forgotten about can still give away a wealth of information. You probably forgot that you had to enter your date of birth and location to sign up for an account or that you had written a little about yourself in an about me section, and all this can still be seen!

Sites like Pipl.com that use email addresses to find out information were not designed with stalking in mind. They are actually created so that it is easier to find people such as a lost relative, an old flame, an old class mate or business contact. Yet when used with evil intent, it is easy to see how seemingly innocent websites could be used by the wrong people to cause serious harm. All from an email address.

All in all you shouldn’t let yourself get too scared. Although you can get a lot of information from an email address, often it is not enough to cause you any serious worry. As these types of sites search the ‘deep web’, if you have a common name your details may not necessarily be the first to appear.

Now you know what information can be gathered about you from an email address, I will leave you with a little advice. Next time you type in your email address on a website, stop and think to what information you are making available to others always ensure that your privacy comes first.

This is a guest post by Charlie Oszvald. Occasional guest blogger on online security and full time blogger on private investigation and asset investigation.  Charlie currently represents Beacon Investigation Solutions a private investigation company licensed in 45 states across the US.


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