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How does temporary email work?

Andrew Sherman

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Disposable email services provide the user with a temporary email address, often in just a few clicks. The address then expires after a set time, usually a few minutes. Most services enable users to generate multiple addresses. One feature of disposable email services is that they let individuals sign up for temporary email addresses without having to submit the reams of personal information that most services seem to require these days. Some don’t require any information at all, so users can remain completely anonymous. This anonymity is presented as a perk, even though customer-facing businesses may think otherwise. There are hundreds if not thousands of disposable email services operating through apps, websites, and browser extensions.

The terms “disposable email address” and “alias email” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are two different things. An alias email will have the same domain as the individual’s main email address (Gmail, for example) and will remain operational until the user deletes it – it won’t expire after a set period, so is suitable for long-term use. Alias email addresses can also pass disposable email address validations that are often used by fraud prevention tools, which disposable emails cannot.

Disposable email is important to individuals as it can help them avoid receiving spam emails and keep their data private. Many websites these days require customers to enter an email address before they can make a purchase or access services. Even news sites, blogs, and research paper publishers often now ask for an email address before an individual can access their content. The individual may then end up on a mailing list for emails they don’t want. Not only that but if the data that the company stores is compromised, the individual’s email address (and possibly other credentials) may well end up in the hands of cybercriminals. Using a unique, temporary email address instead of giving out a primary email address is therefore an important tool for individuals who wish to avoid this.

One further benefit is that disposable email addresses can help individuals who need to bypass geo-restrictions, just as Tor and virtual private network (VPN) clients can. If a website requires an individual to enter an email address from a certain country to access its content, they can use a disposable email address that meets the site’s requirements. Finally, disposable email addresses can serve as a defence against phishing. After all, if a cybercriminal obtains an individual’s email address, but that email expires after a short while, it is of far less use to the fraudster.
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