A very long time ago, in a previous life, I used to work for Radio Shack. This was back in the dark days before things like the Internet, where computers were just getting into the 486 series, and Windows 3.1, and your email address, if you were one of the very few who had one, was either a number at CompuServ or your handle at AOL. Radio Shack did have computers, and we’d try to maintain a customer database, where we’d be able to pull you up by your last name and the last four digits of your telephone number.
While there was a fairly high percentage of repeat customers who understood the process, and would give out the information when they made a “big ticket” purchase, more often than not customers were actively defensive when asked for their information. They’d give their name for a receipt, and if they were paying by credit card their address, but ask for the phone number and more often than not you had a very unhappy customer. Fast forward far too many years, and the typical transaction at a cash register starts with the cashier asking for an email address, and the customer rattling it off without really paying attention to what they are doing.
Go to practically any website, and to either leave a comment on most blogs, or get to the really “premium” content, you have to enter an email address. To make a purchase at a retail store, they ask you for an email address. Register for access to a site online, they ask for an email address. The question I want to ask you today is, do you really want to give all those people your email address?
Many websites just want to use it as your unique identifier and to communicate important information to you. Services like Twitter and Tumblr (and many others) just let you use your email address as your login, and I have every confidence that I have never been sent a piece of spam from either of them or as a result of giving them my email address. But many retailers are asking for your email address so they can send you advertising, and coupons and special offers. A lot of that stuff may sound good up front, but six weeks from now you will just look at it as spam.
So what do you do? Well, there are two extremes, and a lot of grey in the middle. You could refuse to give out your email address to anyone, or you could shrug your shoulders, figure it’s the cost of doing business in this day and age, and give it out to everyone, or you could use your “real” email address for the things you know and trust, and set up a second email address on a free service for the things that want an email address that you know will work, but that you don’t care about. Check it once a month or so to see what content is needed, or just when you need a password reset, but other than that, let it fill and automatically delete older messages as necessary. That way, you keep your primary mailbox as spam free as possible, and can still check your “spam trap” mailbox for the occasional receipt or other need.