January 07, 2004

RSS Feeds Help Dodge Spam with Dodgeit

Now here's an interesting use of RSS feeds. Dodgeit is a free service that lets you pick your own throw-away e-mail user name at dodgeit.com, such as noone@dodgeit.com. Then you can give it out to whomever you want without fear of receiving spam at your regular e-mail accounts. Per their site, it is free, receive-only email with no set up required.

While there are a number of these services, not to mention the old stand-bys of Yahoo! and Hotmail, this one adds a new twist: Instead of you having to manually go to their web site to check your e-mail, it adds a free RSS feed which will automatically notify you in your favorite news aggregator. This is a practical and useful application of news feeds.

However, in this particular service, I would strongly caution against using it for several serious reasons and flaws:

1. There is no privacy policy posted.

Indeed, the site has all the hallmarks of being a programmer's pet project. I'm not trying to be critical, and I heartily applaud his efforts. I just don't like my e-mail to be hosted somewhere without knowing what will be done with it.

2. There is no security on the e-mail addresses or accounts.

This one is fatal. For example, I tested the security by entering the following e-mail accounts and was granted immediate access to the e-mails: test@dodgeit.com and noone@dodgeit.com. From this I am concluding one's e-mail is open to reading by anyone who guesses your account user name. There was no password to stop me or anyone else.

Let's think about what happens when you submit your Dodgeit e-mail address to sign up for a free account at a web site. Later on, you might forget your password, and naturally have the site e-mail it to you. Well, you guessed it -- it goes over to Dodgeit.com with no security and now everyone knows your login information -- not to mention the problems this raises if you're prone to reusing passwords.

So why would I even point this service out? Because it's one of the more creative, yet practical, uses of RSS feeds besides pushing headlines and blog content. I'd like to see more of these email-to-RSS gateway services introduced. For example, I check my regular e-mail accounts daily, but I don't check my free Yahoo! accounts nearly as much because I have to go over to Yahoo!'s site and login, which is outside of my routine and e-mail program. Yes, I could sign up for Yahoo!'s paid service which would give my e-mail program POP3 access. However, I just don't use Yahoo! that much for important e-mail (as it's my throw-away e-mail account). I use my news aggregator nearly daily, and an RSS alert is a lot more convenient to have right next to my other news feeds.

However, this raises yet another security requirement: authenticated RSS feeds. I wouldn't want just anyone to subscribe and "listen in" to my e-mail RSS feeds. Not all news aggregators support RSS authentication. Luckily, my favorite news aggregator, NewzCrawler, includes this feature. The nice thing is that you just set up the login information once in the aggregator, and it can then retrieve the RSS feed items for you in one convenient place.

Therefore, if anyone has come across a good, free, reliable, private, and secure e-mail service with authenticated new mail RSS alerts, I'd love to hear your experience with it. Please post a comment.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard