Why it makes sense to use fake data on the Internet (sometimes)

Martin Brinkmann
Oct 24, 2013
Updated • Oct 25, 2013

There are quite a few situations on the Internet where you are asked to enter data about yourself. Maybe you are leaving a comment on a blog and are asked for a name and email address, making a purchase on eBay or Amazon, want to email the developer of a product, or want to access information that are only available to registered users.

While it makes sense to use your data at times, for instance the right street address and location when creating an account on a shopping site, it often does not really matter if you are using your real name and email address or fake data. Should you use your real email address when you leave a comment on a blog, or a temporary one to avoid the risk that your email address is sold and your inbox flooded with spam?

The core benefit of using fake data is that it improves your privacy while online. There are other benefits, including the following:

What are the benefits of using fake data?

fake data
  1. What you do cannot be linked easily to you. While there are still some possibilities, like through your IP address, the data that you enter cannot be linked back to you that easily. This can also come in handy if you do not want someone to create a profile of your Internet activities, as you can use different information on different sites so that links are not that obvious. If you use the same username on all sites, it is relatively easy to establish connections.
  2. You can avoid a lot of spam and the selling of your data to the highest bidder. This is especially true for email addresses that you enter on websites, but also for information about your location, occupation, hobbies and other information that are of interest to marketers.
  3. You do not necessarily have to remember the data. If you just want to leave a comment on a site for example, it does not really matter if you are using your real name and email address or fake data. This changes if you want to follow up on this or want to become a regular on a site though. It can be very convenient to use fake data instead of your real information.

What are the dangers?

  1. Fake data can only be verified by you to a certain degree. If a fake account or data fails a verification check, you may lose accounts, access or information that you have entered in the past. Some repercussions are worse than others. While you may not care about the deletion of a comment that you left a year ago, you may run into troubles if you lose a domain name or account because of it.
  2. Depending on where you live and what you do online, you may get into legal troubles if you use fake data. While you won't usually if you use a temporary email address to sign up for a web service, you may get into troubles if you use fake data, especially in a commercial context.
  3. You may lose access to temporary email addresses, or someone else may use the very same email address to get into accounts. If you have used a temporary email address service in the past to sign up for services, and that service goes down, you may not be able to get back into that account if you use your account information. Plus, others may use the very same email address to get into accounts by asking for a new password to be sent to the email address. This is however only true if all emails are accessible by all users of the service.

Closing Words

There is nothing wrong with using fake data on the Internet, provided that you are careful where you use it. Using a temporary email address or a fake name when you sign up for services, or leave a comment on a site is a defensive measure to protect your privacy.

Have you been using fake data before on the Internet? If so, in which situation?


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  1. martin said on October 31, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    The major reason i use fake data is for those sites that have security questions (“What is your drivers licence number ?”, “what was your grand mother’s surname ?” etc”). This is because of the social engineering aspect; If someone gets my password and some other details of mine (perhaps from another website or from my laptop, they still don’t know that I entered “007” or “Wicked Witch of the West”.

    Obviously, I need to know what I used as well, so this information goes into my password safe along with the generated password

    1. Transcontinental said on October 31, 2013 at 11:41 pm

      I agree concerning questions which have nothing to do with the matter and as such indeed are only aimed to feed social engineering data and stats. I even wonder how this joke persists when it is obvious that on this point at least most of us will let their imagination be the only honest answerer !
      Fun. Allows us to discover social aims, love issues, etc … Big responsibilities, CEO of a multinational, over 100 think k$, only 35 years old, a lovely wife and three great kids.
      Well, sometimes it’s true!

      1. Transcontinental said on November 1, 2013 at 10:43 am

        Almost, Dario!
        My sentences are long, even in my mother-tongue :)

        As I see things, three points :
        1- Not to be fake concerning a pseudo, even more: an attitude (James Bond!), on a forum; I’ve mentioned this in first post, above.
        2- To provide a true e-mail address but a disposable one.
        3- Concerning social data, whether freeware, shareware, to never provide it unless it is relevant to the very nature of the site, i.e. meeting sites (I miss the terminology, dating whatever) or social sites (If I were to join Google+, Facebook, Twitter I’d give correct information, still perhaps not all information).

        There is absolutely no point in providing my age, gender, post address, income, job. No point at all besides pertinence as in above exceptions mentioned.
        Privacy is not corollary of having something to hide, it is simply an attitude which aims to move around without having a sticker pasted on one’s back.

        I hope Martin ( the guest, not the webmaster!) understands, this time :)

      2. Dario said on November 1, 2013 at 9:56 am

        I guess he is trying to say that social engineering by gathering user data still continues on even though most data probably is made up and this the data for social engineering is inaccurate.

        I believe that as long as someone sees profit in social engineering and gathering and selling data for whatever reason, it will always exist. And thus there will always be people against the concept and enter fake data, specially if it’s irrelevant (for example if you download free software, you won’t need my email and stuff like that…).

      3. DP said on November 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

        Does anyone know what “Transcontinental” is trying to say? No spam links as far as I can see. Makes no sense at all.

  2. XenoSilvano said on October 25, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    I use the ‘mask me’ a Firefox add-on within a sandboxed Tor (track that #####), sandboxed it because of the whole FBI/Freedom Hosting/Tor Malware controversy that occurred a while ago.

    As Ross William Ulbricht the creator of Silk Road has taught us, you need to be very careful about committing any sorts of slip-ups that may hint others as to your real identity.

    RIP isohunt.

  3. 3rdparty said on October 25, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I guess Martin noticed how many responders used random strings for email addresses!
    I don’t every recall using my genuine name, or email address anywhere – except for commercial purposes, banking etc.. Pseudonymous communication is the beating heart of the internet, when it goes, it’s game-over.

    1. Dante said on October 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      I use a very legitimate looking email address here that I do see. But it’s randomly generated by a dictionary. :)

  4. Dario said on October 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Yes, I mainly use fake data for certain ‘free’ software. I say ‘free’ because they do ask for your information before you can download. This in my term does not qualify for ‘free’. My definition of ‘free’ is that you can get it without giving anything back. Giving your information in order to receive it counts as an exchange and thus not free. Perhaps they are not getting ‘money’, but my information is worth money to some, hence it’s not ‘free’. I usually use the site ’10 minute mail’ to create a temporary email because they will either send a link to that email to download the software or send an unlock key to the ‘free’ software.

  5. DP said on October 25, 2013 at 8:32 am

    What is “X” trying to say? Not much of a contribution there!

  6. solid water said on October 25, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Using fake data is reprehensible.

  7. syfgjn said on October 25, 2013 at 3:01 am

    it’s mandatory AT ALL TIMES

  8. syfgjn said on October 25, 2013 at 3:00 am

    .it’s mandatory at all times

  9. X said on October 25, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Ha Ha…. (All the time!)

    1. X said on October 25, 2013 at 1:47 am

      Your comment cannot be empty, but you cannot delete your post either… Catch-22

  10. Dante said on October 25, 2013 at 1:39 am

    I ALWAYS use fake data. I have multiple emails logged in from multiple countries. All kept track of with encrypted files. I use prepaid cards before there was even bitcoins. NSA is nothing to me.

    1. RobC said on October 25, 2013 at 5:02 am

      Have you ever considered the possibility…that NSA also has ways to track suspicious patterns of activity, such as multiple foreign email accounts from multiple countries, or the excessive use of prepaid cards or online currencies? It could be that rather than avoiding detection by the NSA, you’re raising their red flags and ATTRACTING their attention….

      I tend to use my real email address simply because it’s too much of a hassle to keep track of a bunch of fake identities. If the Spam gets out of hand, I can use block lists or, as a last resort, open a new email account and start fresh. If the NSA has a record of me, it’s one of billions, like a needle in a haystack. A needle of HAY, that is. Since I don’t really have anything to hide, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever be harassed by the NSA. Worrying about that is like worrying about the fact that you’re being recorded on video every time you use an ATM. Unless you’re a bank robber, you have nothing to worry about. In a surveillance society, the only people who get noticed are the ones who behave in a way that could be considered suspicious.

      So it could be that paranoid attempts to avoid detection by the NSA could actually be ATTRACTING the attention you were trying to avoid….

      1. Dante said on October 25, 2013 at 9:05 pm

        Not if you remain consistent with your multiple personalities and keep them separate. Computers are great at keeping track of which split personality to use in which instance. And the contacts list in each personality have no commonality.

        And no, I do not talk nor email in coded phrases like The Eagle Has Landed or some such pollock lunacy that I’ve actually seen real life pollocks pull.

      2. XenoSilvano said on October 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm

        That is known as the Streisand Effect.

  11. Transcontinental said on October 24, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    There is fake and fake, at least concerning an e-mail address. A DEA (Disposable Email Address not the other one!) is not a fake address since it will get to you. A fake e-mail address is one invented from and to nowhere.

    Here and on the Web, I never decline, besides a true DEA, my identity. I did in year 2000 when I started exploring the Web, and had then so much spam that I decided to hide systematically my identity, except of course for commercial transactions. I still get phony e-mails once in a while, and I’m afraid it is mainly due either to relatives who have had their computer “visited” either to companies who have had as well, without being dishonest, their data analyzed one way or another, either intercepted e-mail (who knows, I don’t encrypt e-mail).

    But, on another hand, I never fake another pseudo-identity than the one I have initiated a post, a whatever identity-related presence on the Web. If I present myself as Transcontinental, I won’t change: that is my honesty.

    It is possible to combine a virtual identity and honesty. I have in this way combined zero+ spam and authenticity of speech and, in a way, identity.

    1. aergae said on March 14, 2014 at 6:38 am

      Not quite sure what you meant to say in your second comment; “would mean not only fake or DEA e-mail but also a complete metamorphosis of one’s speech, and that would be so coherent and at the same time true deeply unauthentic, towards not the big ears… ”
      Did you mean to say that if we had complete privacy we’d be liars too?

      “Coherent”? Always a good thing to be.

    2. syfgjn said on October 25, 2013 at 3:13 am

      neither of us has to justify to anyone why or how virtuously we stay anonymous, as in “i’m anonymous, but i ONLY do x and NEVER do y”
      i used to use two browsers, one fortified to the max with every anonymising thing i could come up with and the other lightweight, fast and relatively unprotected. the sheer ubiquitousness of the same few ads i found no less [without exaggeration] than maddening. the advertisers did a lot more than presume to know what i might like. in fact, more often, they presumed to know what i might be afraid of in order to get me to buy their crap. they hope people might suffer from fear of erectile dysfunction, fear of singledom/celibacy etc etc. FEAR OF BEING HUMAN no less.
      the people who want your data are a pack of arseholes and it’s THEY who should prove to US why we should give them one jot of any real info about ourselves.,
      fuck them all.
      and that’s not even touching on the issue of freedom of speech

      1. Transcontinental said on October 25, 2013 at 11:13 am

        I don’t refer only to my rights, nor to the idea of being tracked. IP address is far enough for being tracked, and no proxy or VPN here. I am pragmatic rather than ideologist and I aim essentially not being harassed by spam.

        As for my obligations, I see them on the Web as in life, that is combining security and authenticity towards the admin and the users of a Website.

        Being fake, in the sens of an extended privacy, if you think about it, would mean not only fake or DEA e-mail but also a complete metamorphosis of one’s speech, and that would be so coherent and at the same time true deeply unauthentic, towards not the big ears (I believe it would be anyway non-operational, unless to make them believe we are one than one on a given computer), but towards fellow mates met here and there.

        Finally, I believe the worst defeat is to become fake in the name of security. Partially hidden is enough.

  12. Dave said on October 24, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    I do this all the time. I try and remain as anonymous as possible on the net by giving out complete and utter rubbish quite often where registration is required and, where I feel it necessary, using a disposable e-mail address or a service such as Spamgourmet, except some sites seem to recognise the address conjured up using this facility as not legit!

  13. beachbouy said on October 24, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Yahoo now allows users to setup alias email names, like “not.real-ghacks@yahoo.com.” I like this better than Gmail, because to setup an alias with Gmail, you still have to expose your real email address, as in “real.addy+ghacks@gmail.com.”

    In either case, the emails to the alias address come to your regular inbox. But, you can easily setup a filter to delete any emails coming to that alias address. This is a very nice feature of the new Yahoo email.

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