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

Twitter is fairly new and currently very popular communications tool. Along with popularity comes abuse in the form of spammers.

I included my email address in a 'tweet' on Twitter, and someone told me I shouldn't. Why?

I made that question up, because I noticed today that masses of people are doing exactly that: including their email addresses within posts they make on Twitter.

You really, really, really don't want to do that.

The reason is an old answer: spam.

Twitter in many ways defies description. It's been called a "micro blogging" site, a "community IM" tool, and a bunch of other things. The bottom line is that you post messages of up to 140 characters, and anyone following you can read them.

You'll note I'm on Twitter, and currently include my three most recent posts, colloquially called "tweets", on the right side of my pages. (Feel free to follow my tweets, just visit http://LeoOnTwitter.com.)

So, why is tweeting your email address such a bad, bad idea?

Because anyone can see it. Your tweets, including what are called "@"-replies, are visible to everyone. That's actually kind of the point of Twitter, when you think about it.

"Your tweets ... are visible to everyone."

Unfortunately, that includes ... you guessed it ... spammers.

Here's a fun exercise to try: go to http://search.twitter.com and search for "hotmail". What you'll get is a list of recently posted tweets that include the word hotmail. And most all of them will be as part of an email address.

Now, imagine you're a spammer looking for valid, known-good, legitimate email addresses to either spam, or spoof. What an incredible resource! A small piece of software to automatically scan and collect all the email addresses that appear on twitter, and the spammer's collecting gold.

So don't let your email address be one of them. At least obfuscate it. Your tweets are likely intended to be read by real people, right? So if your email address is me@example.com make it something like:

me at example.com

or

me(at)example.com

or something along those lines.

But don't tweet your bare-naked email address.

Unless you want more spam, that is.

Article C3611 - January 3, 2009 « »

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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.

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6 Comments
Rahul Mehta
January 5, 2009 3:22 AM

IMHO... obfuscating is not the answer... When a spammer's tool can look for "@", it also can look for "at" and its variants. They even scan image files.

The answer to the question is king of a cold war, a constant struggle to outwit the humint at the other end.

You're correct, however the operational theory is that because there are so many non-obfuscated email addresses available for spammers to harvest, most will not take the time to try to decode the techniques we might dream up. But yes, it's not an absolute solution.
- Leo
05-Jan-2009
Nick
January 6, 2009 8:26 AM

I don't tweet as it happens. However, if I did and I wanted to include my email address, then I'd make a disposable one up specially for the purpose using Yahoo's Addressguard system or something like it such as a GMX one. That way, if I started getting spam I could immediately destroy the address, or maybe I'd destroy it anyway after a couple of weeks, depending upon how current it needed to be for whatever my purpose was in publishing it.

Dallie Vernon
January 6, 2009 9:06 AM

...I use a downloaded software called MailWasher. It intercepts all my mail before it is downloaded, and scans it. I can even read it before I download it. Any email I don't want to download I can blacklist, "bounce" and /or delete. MailWasher can be found at www.mailwasher.net.

Rick E.
January 6, 2009 9:53 AM

Anything that you see on your computer screen
is in a file on your computer. It may not be
in your mailbox, but it's somewhere! It may be
in a temp file that eventually gets erased but
it is still in your computer memory and/or on
a computer drive.

Peter
January 7, 2009 1:08 AM

Modern address harvesters can read at instead of @ and even read jpg images containing an email address. This article understates the problem.

Arthur
January 18, 2009 8:08 PM

Which also makes it a great way to place honeypots like this one: [email removed]

Many legitimate spam fighters use such places with great success.

Go ahead spammers... Get ahold of this address... Please!

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