Identifying Disposable Email Addresses: A Better Approach

Disposable email addresses – also known as burner emails, throwaway emails, temporary emails or fake emails – are commonly touted as a useful tool for keeping one’s personal or business email address private and clean of spam. Not to be confused with alias email addresses (which generally forward to a primary email address, and are therefore more likely to be read), there are different types of disposable email addresses, and they can work in a variety of ways.

In general, a user will submit a disposable email address instead of their real one, which in theory should help keep one’s own email protected from spam without their primary email and/or private data being exposed. (Note that we say “should”: there are some unscrupulous disposable email providers out there, so as with all things concerning the internet, users must be careful.)

Disposable email addresses may sound great for end users, but they can be problematic for legitimate businesses and marketers. One could easily argue that disposables are successfully doing their job when it prevents a marketer from emailing an end user, but this also means that businesses are forced to adapt their marketing strategies. One such strategy: trying to identify these disposable email addresses up front, to have a more accurate view of your email marketing assets.

A simple (but flawed) strategy: email lists

Disposable email addresses are commonly identified by static lists. There are many online communities that pool together their own lists of known disposable domains and email addresses. However, static lists are a poor long-term solution, as they can quickly become stagnant. Some communities do their best to keep their lists up to date, but there are still many potential problems with this strategy:

  • Lists often lack standardization, which can lead to implementation issues. There are many disposable services available worldwide, and some community driven lists and solutions are dedicated to just a single disposable service.
  • These lists frequently contain legitimate records for domains and addresses that are not disposable.
  • In order for a disposable to make it on to a list it first needs to be reported. By the time that happens, and the data makes it way into a solution, the list may already be partially outdated. Moreover, disposables frequently change and not all disposables are reported.
  • Using a list strategy requires constant vigilance. It’s trouble enough staying up to date on just one disposable service, but trying to stay on top of multiple others as well as new ones as they pop up is often a losing battle.

Lists of disposable email addresses are a reactionary solution at best. Worse, they only scratch the surface of the problem. Disposables are constantly changing, with new ones appearing and old ones disappearing all the time. It is impractical to rely on a simple list strategy to try and successfully identify a disposable.

A better approach: organic data aggregation

At Service Objects we like to look beyond simple lists. Instead of looking at one list to perform a simple straightforward disposable lookup, we take advantage of our wealth of data and our years of experience to not only dig deeper, but to also cast a wider net. Our email validation service doesn’t just look at lists, it looks at the whole picture as well as the nitty-gritty.

We observe various behavior patterns to better identify specific activities and ties to these activities, not just for disposables but for a variety of email types – malicious or otherwise. This allows us to assign values to these activities and even compare them against other activities. Using complex algorithms along with machine learning we can intelligently determine if a value is directly or indirectly related to a particular issue, such as being a disposable address.

As sophisticated as this solution is, note that we won’t always be able to successfully identify a disposable address. Sometimes all the variables don’t match up just right, and sometimes there just isn’t enough data. However, the service will still often be able to identify such email address as being malicious or potentially malicious, in which case you would likely want to reject the email address anyway.

The sophisticated solution

Disposable email addresses are a real headache for businesses and marketers. As with most things regarding email addresses, they are a much more complicated problem than one would normally think. A problem that requires more than a simple list as a solution. They call for a sophisticated solution.

Our DOTS Email Address Validation service keeps tabs on millions of domains. It monitors various behavior patterns and leverages multiple sets of data. As domains and data continue to grow, so does the service – becoming smarter and better. The service can adapt to the constantly changing disposables, making it better suited to identify them as they pop up. Not because it’s trying to keep up with them, but because it’s anticipating them.

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