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Apple Describes Disposable Email Solution to Combat Spam in New Patent Application

mailicon.jpgApple has developed a system for both avoiding spam and locating its source, according to a patent application published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday (via AppleInsider).

The patent, originally filed for in 2012, describes an email system that would allow users to create temporary, disposable email addresses linked to a permanent email account. These temporary addresses could be used to join websites or make purchases, with incoming emails to these addresses forwarded to the permanent email address.

If the temporary email address is sold by a site or otherwise compromised and begins to receive spam emails, it can simply be disabled and unlinked from the permanent account, effectively ending the spam emails.

As a bonus, assigning temporary email addresses when signing up for various accounts around the web also allows for specific identification of sites or parties that have misused email addresses. Apple specifies that contextual information can be included in the temporary addresses for easy identification.
An integrated system allows easily creating and using disposable email addresses. The disposable email address is created by an email server, which manages correspondence using the disposable email address to avoid exposing the associated non-disposable email address. Context information may be associated with a disposable email address, where the context information is not visible in email sent using the disposable email address. Should the disposable address be misused, the associated context may allow a user to recognize what correspondent exposed the disposable address to misuse.
Apple's system would also carefully manage incoming emails, assigning the proper address for replies so that a user’s permanent account is never revealed, and the temporary emails, unlike existing disposable email solutions, would be indistinguishable from standard email addresses.

While there are a variety of sites that provide access to temporary emails such as Mailinator and Guerrilla Mail, few of these services are able to be linked to a permanent account for ongoing usage until spam occurs and must be checked individually. Apple notes that current disposable email systems are difficult to use.

Gmail has its own solution in the form of email aliases, allowing customers to receive messages to username+anyalias@gmail.com, which is treated as the standard email address. Aliases in Gmail can be filtered to specific locations like the trash when subjected to spam, but they cannot be deleted entirely as Apple proposes.

Apple's solution combines a standard mail service with a temporary service like Mailinator, making it simple to create, manage, and delete disposable email addresses. The described system has the potential to allow users to greatly cut down on the amount of spam emails received if it is implemented, but as with many patents, it is unclear if Apple has plans to move forward with such a system.

Top Rated Comments

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27 weeks ago

Now if they can just fix the Mail app in Mavericks, we'll be in good shape!


The Mail app in Mavericks works great. My guess is you are using that non standard terribly implemented IMAP email service known as Gmail.

In any case, I already have the perfect spam solution similar to what Apple is doing here. All it takes is to purchase your own domain name and use the catchall email feature with forwarding to your real email address. Then when you sign up somewhere like for instance Walmart's site you just use walmart@mydomainname.com and that way you never give out your email address and instantly know when someone is spamming you and can turn it off whenever.

Been doing this for years.
Rating: 30 Votes
27 weeks ago
Now if they can just fix the Mail app in Mavericks, we'll be in good shape!
Rating: 20 Votes
27 weeks ago
What's novel or patentable here? Disposable email addresses have been provided by numerous email providers for years
Rating: 20 Votes
27 weeks ago

Spamgourmet (https://www.spamgourmet.com/) does word-for-word what this patent describes, and I've been using it since 2007. The patent should be invalidated.


if you think it does word-for-word, than you are sorely mistaken and should reread this article word-for-word
Rating: 14 Votes
27 weeks ago
This is just pointless. The effort spent in making up email addresses and then remembering which one for what use, and how many other places you used it, vs. being able to dump it..

First, this is nothing new. If you control your own domain, you can do that already. The last thing we need is someone to patent that and then screw everyone for making aliases.

Spam is out of control. Period. The consequences need to be raised. Start going after the sites that sell, where the links go. Screw the senders. Make it hurt to even be involved in it. Then it will stop.
Rating: 9 Votes
27 weeks ago

Gmail has this functionality built in kind of with custom filters. You can add "+" to your email address and create a filter to work with the portion. Ex. JSmith@gmail.com -> JSmith+macrumors@gmail.com. Then create a filter to send all mail sent to JSmith+macrumors@gmail.com to your MacRumors folder, or spam folder, or trash, the possibilities are endless.


The way Gmail offers this has several issues that Apple is solving here. First of all, everyone knows that gmail offers the "+" feature so even the most unsophisticated spammers can easily just program their software to strip that part and get your real email address when its a gmail address. The other big issue is that many web forms and software systems don't accept the + character.

But this patent also seems to make the whole thing about assigning alias addresses and managing them more built in and automated. If Apple can make that type of system easier to use for the general public it would go a long way towards cutting down on spam in general. The best case scenario would be something like how they popularized smartphones and made it mainstream.
Rating: 8 Votes
27 weeks ago
I've been doing this in yahoo for years.
Rating: 8 Votes
27 weeks ago
Spamgourmet (https://www.spamgourmet.com/) does word-for-word what this patent describes, and I've been using it since 2007. The patent should be invalidated.
Rating: 6 Votes
27 weeks ago
I'm glad to see Apple paying attention to the problem and working on solutions. The system they describe may not be the perfect solution, but neither are other proposals I've seen.

Apple's approach, with temporary email addresses, is how many security-minded users already handle new accounts: create a new email address to sign up with a new vendor, access the email through your regular email account, and delete the address if it starts to receive spam or if you no longer need it. Automating the process would be a major convenience. Of course if the vendor is sending email that you want to retain and spammers are sending to the same address, that approach doesn't work.

The ability to trace back spam is highly desirable. You may not pinpoint the spammer but if you pinpoint the chain of servers they connect to you can determine which servers to block, or automatically report use of a mail relay being used for spam.

Gmail's spam filter is excellent, but other current systems are often ineffective. Systems that require a sender verification process (confirming who you are at a website) sound good on paper but are a major annoyance to senders and can prevent you from getting automated mail even when you've requested it.

Blacklists have become common for major email services but often block legitimate senders. I've had email accounts on mail servers that were blacklisted by mistake, and it's not easy to get off the blacklist promptly.

Whitelists have practical issues too. You indicate who you want email from and no other mail gets through, but you'd have to be very organized to maintain such a list, and when you sign up with a vendor you don't always know what email domains they use.

This type of research may not produce THE answer, but it leads us to more choices, and that's good news.
Rating: 4 Votes
27 weeks ago
Gmail and iCloud works great on my mail on Mavericks..
Rating: 3 Votes

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