Why obfuscate email addresses?

I spent some time this weekend working on a new email obfuscation website: Obfuscate, please.

Obfuscate, please.

Obfuscate, please.

Email harvesters are constantly crawling the web looking for addresses to spam. To prevent these harvesters from finding their addresses, many people have attempted to obfuscate them before posting in a public place (if you aren’t already, I highly recommend it). I’ve done this for years, and while there are many sites that will obfuscate them for you, I’ve never really been able to find any that handled the exact options that I wanted.

While some may argue that email obfuscation isn’t worth the hassle, I’m not so sure. I don’t like techniques that force the end user to do extra work, but not all techniques are like that.

Posting an email address as user[AT]provider[DOT]com is all too common, and all too annoying. As an end user, I don’t want to have to meddle with your address in order to send you a simple email. Spam is a burden on your end, so why are you shifting the burden to my end? I can see why we may want to disown obfuscation techniques such as this one.

Instead, I like to utilize techniques that pose no burden on the end user. The website I developed this weekend showcases a small handful of these techniques which I’ve found to be effective at stopping most harvesters, while proving to be completely transparent to the user. When rendered in a real browser, regular users see nothing out of the ordinary.

I won’t try to argue that these simple obfuscation techniques will stop the most advanced of email address harvesters because I’m convinced that almost nothing will. If we want the email address to display properly for a user, then, by definition, a sufficiently advanced harvester will have to be able to read it as well. That said, I do believe that these levels of protection are far, far more secure than posting email addresses in plaintext, and when the obfuscation techniques are easy and convenient, any spam reduction is almost certainly worth the effort.

Eric Jeney is a Java aficionado with a number of projects under his belt. He enjoys programming for the web, and writing about his experiences. He currently studies Computer Science at the University of Maryland.

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