How a Burner Identity Protects Your Inbox, Phone, and Cards

Between vaccine appointment notifications, store pickups, online food ordering, and a general increase in online ordering, I feel like I’ve created three times as many online accounts in the past 18 months than I did in all previous years combined.

Handing out any sort of personal information, whether it’s an email address or a phone number, can lead to spam, data breaches, or harassment. More abstractly, it can also enable tracking by data brokers—companies that take identifiable bits of data, including phone numbers, email addresses, and device-specific identifiers (such as a browser fingerprint or device ID that’s linked to a phone or computer) and then aggregate that data into a marketing profile. One way to protect your personal details from both individuals and corporations is to use alternate details, which you can generate through a number of tools. These “burner” identity tools create disposable email addresses, credit card numbers, and phone numbers, all of which can help protect your main accounts while you do just about anything online.

Private email forwarding: SimpleLogin

A screen shot of the Simple Login app dashboard where the user can create and organize multiple alias email addresses.

If you spend a lot of time online, you likely have dozens of accounts spread across the internet, with sites and services ranging from retail stores you’ve shopped at once to random apps that require your email address to use. You’ve probably handed that email address to plumbers, car salespeople, social networks, and countless others who may have gone on to spam your inbox.

Over the years, I’ve taken two approaches to managing the situation: creating a free email address explicitly for shopping (Gmail, Outlook, ProtonMail, and the like all work fine for this purpose) and using email forwarding to obfuscate that address so I can pull the plug if spam starts coming in.

Email-forwarding services—I like SimpleLogin, which generates a nonsense email address, such as [email protected]—forward any emails sent to that address to your real inbox. If an account gets too much spam, you can block it and start over with a new email address from your forwarding service. This approach is great for shopping, where you may need an email receipt for only a few weeks, or company…