Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Both you and your email provider share responsibility for your privacy. By taking care before providing personal information you can avoid its abuse.

I want to give someone my email address but make sure they cannot get my home address or telephone number. How can I guarantee this? In other words can someone find my home address or telephone number by knowing my email address?

The short answer is that no, they cannot.

The longer answer is that no, they cannot, unless you've been careless.

Let me explain.

The details of why it doesn't work depend on just exactly where you got your email address. If you got it from a free email service like Hotmail or Gmail or the like, then you never provided your home address or phone so it's not even kept with your email information. There's just no way to associate your email address with a physical address or phone.

If your email is provided by your ISP (as the original questioner's appeared to be) then your ISP naturally knows your address and phone number, but they will not divulge that information to just anyone. As I've said many times before, ISPs will only provide the information related to email or IP addresses in response to legal action or a court order.

"... what you do with your information is critically important to maintaining your privacy."

So at the root of the email system, you are protected by your email service provider: either because they simply don't know, or because their privacy policy protects you.

So what's this part about being careless?

Well, to use an extreme example, let's say you posted your email address, phone number, and home address on a web page. That could easily be found by someone. It's extreme, but it's an example to show that what you do with your information is critically important to maintaining your privacy.

Let's use a different example. Let's say you sign up for a web service of some sort and they require an email address, a physical address, and a phone number. Do you trust that service?

Most on-line merchants need to collect this information to process transactions you might have with them. You're now relying on the integrity of that merchant to protect you. If, on the other hand, you hand over your information to a less-than-reputable site, then you might not only make the association between your email address and other information public, you might also end up setting yourself up for identity theft or worse.

The real bottom line is that what you do with your information will ultimately control how easy it is for others to find. Share it only with those you trust.

Article C3197 - October 30, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

November 3, 2007 2:11 PM

In addition to the above, I'd like to point out that if someone uses their own domain name for their email address then their personal info can be obtained through a WhoIs lookup. Most people don't realize that the WhoIs database is open to public searches when they register a domain. Unless they obtain private registration for their domain then they may be at risk.

August 23, 2009 12:17 PM

Apparently Yahoo chose not to protect me. I merely emailed my photo to someone and unbeknownst to me, Yahoo email included my first and last name, which the recipient then Googled and got complete name, address and phone number!! I am no longer safe. How can I keep this from happening again?? Thank you.

I don't think Yahoo chose to do anything - I suspect you simply have your full name publicly available in your Yahoo profile.

January 4, 2010 7:04 AM

I hired a company that found a craiglist scammer from only an email address. Then I recommended them to a friend of mine who's son bought a xbox 360 for $35, and he found the guy behind that too. If you want to check them out they are called Re-Puter. You can find them in google.

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