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Background: email privacy and spamLast year, I had published a post titled “How To Prevent Getting Spammed: Six Ways to Protect Your Email” In that post, I had described different ways in which one could protect their identity and minimize amount of spam one receives. Relay services was one of six methods described in that post. This blog post can be considered as add-on or a “sister post” to the previous one.I became aware of many other services in this space, recently, some notable recent additions being CloudFlare, Duckduckgo and Apple. This presented a perfect opportunity to publish an expanded list of email relay providers.
What is an email relay service useful for?An email relay service is one of the ways to protect your true address from others. Many websites and apps require you to sign in before you can use their services. However, in an era of increasing data breaches, it becomes imperative to look at tools for protecting and managing privacy. Email relay service is an option that I would highly recommend. Note: SMTP Relay services for sending mails from say your WordPress site is not included in this post. By extension, services such as Sendgrid, Mailjet and others will not be covered in this article. We have also not covered how relay is different from email forwarding. Or, how relay is different from temporary email. In a future update of this post, I may expand scope of this post to cover those topics.
Quick Primer: What is an Email Relay?Before we dive deeper, let us take a step backwards and revisit the very idea of an email relay service.Think of an email relay as a P.O. Box address instead of your real address. Or, a ‘dummy’ address that you can give to the outside world. In the good old days of `snail mail`, one had to visit a post office to collect messages from the P.O Box. That email account, and internally it gets forwarded to your real email address. So it’s a way of masking or masquerading your email address. Email relay can have both forms, that is outbound (or email that you send) and inbound (or email that you receive). Free version of Firefox Relay is an inbound service, that is, you can can only receive emails from that address. Most other providers offer two way service as a premium or paid service. I found this graphic on Simplelogin.com website to be quite helpful in understanding how an Email Relay works. I had tested few different services like ImprovMX and Lastmx when I was researching for that post. For my own use I settled for two. Lastmx and Firefox Relay. Each serves a different purpose. I also had one email connected to ImprovMX for a while, but three email relay services with seven aliases became too much to handle. I might discontinue Lastmx service in a month’s time, because five email aliases from Firefox are adequate for my needs for now.
Firefox Relay is not the only Relay serviceThose who are familiar with the use of email relay services will be aware that Firefox is not the only game in town. They may be in fact late to the email relay service game.There seems to be a good number of options in this space. Some of the other providers include:
- Cloudflare Email Routing
- Anon Addy
- Simple Login (available currently on Appsumo as an annual deal on discount)
- Apple’s Hide My Email Service
Taking a peek at some Email Relay Services
@duck.com by Duckduckgo (free)The folks who run the Duckduckgo privacy oriented browser also offer a receive-only email relay. This service is currently in beta, and one has to wait for an invite (or wait for months before Duckduckgo sets up your account). To sign up, you have to use a Duckduckgo app on a phone or a tablet. Desktop option is not available if you install the browser extension. I used the iOS app for Duckduckgo,, and haven’t tried the browser extension. The below screenshot should serve the need of explaining what to do if you opt for the desktop route.
Hide My Email by Apple (Freemium)I learnt about this service in January 2022, when I upgraded to a new iphone. I was trying to reinstall some apps, and the options shows that I need not share my Apple ID with the developers for the different apps. I believe each app gets a unique alias- I tested this by installing one of the many Adobe apps for iOs. I received the email confirming my account, the usual flurry of “How to use our app”, a couple of marketing emails…A day later, I deleted the app, and the emails stopped. That is awesome! The paid service of iCloud (iCloud+) allows you to create unlimited aliases. Not bad for nearly 75 Rupees a month- you get storage space and email relay among other advantages. According to Apple, Hide My Email..
lets you create an account using a randomly-generated email address directly within a supported third-party app or website.
Some other Freemium Email Relay ServicesBelow are screenshots from Six different services- AnonAddy, ImproMX, LastMX, 33Mail, Altmail, and SimpleLogin. Each describes the pricing, features such as custom domain, number of aliases, etc. in adequate detail. All screenshots taken from respective websites by by me, Amar Vyas
Open Source Solutions – Self Hosted Email Relay for Privacy and SecurityIf you know the ropes, you can use OpenTrash Mail or self hosted version of Simple Login. The steps for downloading, installing, configuring these apps are described in good detail on their respective pages on github.
Also seePaced.email and MxRoute. Practically either services can be used as an email relay.
Using an email aliasYou can of course use alias with most email providers instead of a relay. So for example, if someone were to use a gmail account for Twitter the email login could look something like [email protected]
Wrapping it up : Email Relay Service serves a need – to an extentEvery other week we read about instances of data breaches for service providers. This page on haveibeenpwned site maintains a running list of some of the larger breaches. For most of us, it makes sense to have at least one or two such email relay services for let’s say, signing on to Social Media sites, Internet forums, or places where you are required to provide your email address. That way in case the data does get breached at any of these service providers, the user’s real email address is not revealed. Of course the risk exists that the email relay service itself may get compromised. In other words, it is not a foolproof, or a perfect solution. But it is certainly better than giving out your real email address.You can learn further about email relay services by visiting the following resources:
- Serverfault.com (the discussion can be pretty technical for some, but rather useful!)
- Firefox Relay Blog protects your email address from hackers and spammers– The Mozilla Blog
Aside: So far, I have been fortunate to publish one new blog post everyday this month. With the exception of the Sunday 13th of February of course. The theme for that post on SaaS (Software as a Service) is SaaSy Sundays. My draft turned out to be a very long post, close to 4000 words. I felt it makes sense to actually publish it as a two part series, of nearly equal lengths.My aim is to do just that on Sunday the 20th.
This post was written as a part of #bloggingchallenge for February 2022 under the theme #TechieThursday. You can follow the progress of my daily blogging by visiting the February 2022 Blogging Challenge Tracker page. Wordcount: 1400. Time taken for writing, editing, images and publishing; 2 hours. The copy editing tool, Copywritely, crashed and I had to re-do the ‘fixing typos and links’ part of this post 🙂
This post was updated on 2022-02-24