I was recently reminded of the existence of a particular Google service, one which I had completely forgotten. To my surprise, it turned out to be a significant discovery, as the product can be used to improve one’s privacy on the web, while reducing spam. The service, Google Alerts, allows users to choose specific search queries that they’d like to monitor. When new results appear in one of these queries, the user can be automatically notified by e-mail. Here are some suggested uses, according to Google:
- monitoring a developing news story
- keeping current on a competitor or industry
- getting the latest on a celebrity or event
- keeping tabs on your favorite sports teams
All very interesting, sure – but what does it have to do with privacy, or spam? Well, what if you were to put your e-mail address in there? If your e-mail address shows up on Google, or any other search engine, it’s vulnerable to spam bots. With Google Alerts, you can get notified when new search results appear for your e-mail, and that can give you a chance to do something about it. Whether the e-mail was added via a malicious act by another individual, or an honest personal mistake – you will be alerted. Such a notification can help reduce the amount of spam you receive, but also prevent your e-mail from being public knowledge.
As an example, here’s how I would add an alert using Bill Gates‘ address:
It’s really that simple – once created, Google will do all the work, and notify you when new results appear.
Keep in mind, however, that there are other uses beyond simply monitoring an e-mail address. It’s also possible to create alerts using other information, such as your name, or domain. These types of alerts can be useful in keeping tabs on your online reputation, which often spans multiple websites. If interested, watch below as Googler Matt Cutts explains how the product can be used to monitor a person’s name.