Apple has really been on a patent kick lately, and their latest approved application describes a possible fix to one of the biggest annoyances to any one’s online life. Touted as an integrated system that allows easy creation and use of disposable email addresses, Apple’s solution for spam could be the thing that’s needed to slow the volume of spam we all get every day. The question is, can their proposed system work well enough and be easy enough for people to actually use?
While this patent for spam email protection was just approved, it actually dates back to 2012. The idea of the patent is that a user can create unlimited alias email addressed easily and have them sent to your central Apple email address so that you receive and reply to emails without exposing your main email address.
This protection would be useful if a company who you gave your address to shared it with a 3rd party site, or if your account was compromised. The work would be done server-side, making integration with email clients much more simple. All emails to the alias addresses would come directly to your main account.
This means that instead of unsubscribing from emails you don’t want you can just un-link that alias from your account.
The Good Part
The great part about this idea is the simplicity. Currently you can make up to five alias email accounts with iCloud email, but those all need to be added as separate accounts to send and receive correctly. With Apple’s proposed system, you would set the account up on the server and everything else would just work.
This is also a great way to use rules and special notifications in your mail client, too. With an alias in place, you could filter all mail to it into a specific folder, or mark it all as read. This would work far better than a keyword search like you could use now.
How You Can Do This Now
This idea isn’t necessarily new, however. Services like MeltMail have long offered disposable email addresses for receiving, but if you have to reply to these redirected emails, things get tricky. MeltMail also only allows redirected emails for up to 24 hours, which means that the account self-destructs once time runs out. This is useful at times, but with Apple’s new system, you could use a separate email address for Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and just about every other service out there.
There are other, more permanent services out there like Mailinator, but once again you run into the issue of a 3rd party getting involved, which ads more difficulty and less usability.
Gmail currently offers a solution for this issue by allowing the addition of a plus sign ( + ) into a Gmail address. This means that email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will go to the same place as chief.scrubber+Facebook@gmail .com as well as email@example.com. With Gmail’s system, you can use filters and automation to deal with spam sent to these addresses. If an account with a + in it becomes compromised, just filter it into the trash from now on. This isn’t as easy a solution as Apple’s, but it’s decent.
Spammers could work around Gmail’s method fairly easily, which is why the system from Apple could be a big deal.
Will it Work?
Without seeing exactly how Apple would implement this idea, it’s hard to say, but if it’s both secure and blazingly simple to use, it should be a big hit to spammers everywhere and a good reason to start using iCloud mail. Keeping everything in-house instead of 3rd party programs like MeltMail would make the process easier and more likely to be used.
Apple is basically combining their current alias system with a service like Mailinator or MeltMail and if they do it correctly, it should be a match made in server heaver.
Remember that even though this application was approved, a lot can change in two years. Apple may not feel this is a road they want to go down now, or it might be something they did just to license later. Could Apple help eliminate spam with this new patent? Definitely. Will they actually apply it and make a feature of iCloud mail? Only time will tell.