A long time ago, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, all the web developers used a â€œmailto linkâ€ like firstname.lastname@example.org for e-mail addresses on their websites. A reader could simply click on the link, and her favorite mail reader would pop up with the â€œTo:â€ and possibly even the â€œSubject:â€ lines pre-filled. Those days were good. However, the spammers, or more accurately, the e-mail harvesters, quickly realized that they could pad their e-mail lists by grabbing all the mailto links on a page. A few web developers got clever and dropped the link, putting addresses into their pages as simple text. But, the harvesters werenâ€™t fooled for long. They began to grab both the mailto links and anything with an @ sign in it. It didnâ€™t matter if sometimes they got nonsense like â€œflowers@$20/dozenâ€. It cost them little to try the â€œaddressâ€ and strip it from the list when the mail bounced.
So then some other web denizens started to write out the â€œatâ€ and/or the â€œdotâ€ to thwart the harvesters. The harvesters caught on again. Here are some of the many permutations that have been tried:
- username at domain.com
- username at domain dot com
- username (at) domain (dot) com (with and without spaces)
- username [at] domain [dot] com (with and without spaces)
- userSPAMname at domain dot com
- userREMOVEMEname at domain dot com
- user(SPAM)name at domain dot com
- username+spam at domain dot com
- any of the above replacing â€œatâ€ with â€œATâ€ or â€œ@â€ and/or replacing â€œdotâ€ with â€œDOTâ€ or â€œ.â€
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a good programmer could write a SINGLE LINE of code using whatâ€™s called a â€œregular expressionâ€ that would recognize ALL of those formats as potential e-mail addresses. Another line or two might be needed to strip the extraneous characters out of the latter examples, but thatâ€™s it.
If you are posting your e-mail address in a form that follows the below pattern (choose one item from each column), then the harvesters’ web scraping code can already find you. Don’t feel left out if you’ve got a longer address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, they’ve got you, too, if you’re following a similar pattern.
|* = no, one, or any combination of non-alphanumeric character(s)|
Itâ€™s true that if you do something unique to disguise your e-mail address, the harvesters wonâ€™t find you right away, but once people begin to copy your format, the harvesters will code your pattern into their web scraping routines. Trying to disguise your e-mail address by putting it in any generalizable form is somewhat akin to putting a lock on your luggage. It makes you feel like your property is safer, and itâ€™ll keep the lowest level thief out, but in the end, itâ€™s only a minor deterrent to someone who really wants whatâ€™s inside.