Time was you could create an anonymous account on almost any email service. But now many providers require a phone number to which they send a confirmation code to activate the supposedly 'free' account.
Unfortunately, this destroys anonymity by linking it to your phone, which is a lot more invasive than you think. Fortunately, there's ways around that...
You can take advantage of the fact that many specialty email providers intentionally forego account verification in order to build a customer base with as little friction as possible. Here are a few:
In addition to the services listed above there are many others, but they are far too numerous for us to keep track of across all jurisdictions. So if none of these work for you, poke around the internet... The key is to look for providers that are large enough to be durable, yet hungry enough not to limit themselves with requirements such as verification.
If the thought of relying on one of the smaller (but still substantial) email services listed above makes you uncomfortable, it's still possible to create an anonymous account on some of the largest providers, although it is considerably more difficult to slide under their radar.
By virtue of the way they design their signup form, some sites imply that a phone number is necessary, but in certain cases they don't actually require it. Some will even say it's mandatory, but they don't actually send a code, they just activate the account anyway. And some will allow you to supply an email address rather than a mobile number, but they don't verify it.
If you find a reliable email service that allows you to register anonymously, let us know and we'll add them here. Working together over time we can list enough providers to cover the world, and save others the difficulty of hunting for alternatives. We'll reward every successful submission with 5 GB of Credit. Also see note #2. Simply contact us.
There are a couple of other ways to approach this problem. One is to use a temporary SMS provider (SMS means short messaging service, known popularly as text or txt messages). These services rapidly appear and disappear, so we can't build a reliable list of them, but they will grant you a temporary phone number to provide to an email account service. Search for "Free SMS Services" or similar words.
Unfortunately, often there aren't any, or only ones that can send a text message but not receive one. But since you only need it to work only for the few minutes it takes to sign up for an account, it can sometimes be a viable alternative.
Finally, rather than fighting the email provider's intrusion you may be able to cooperate with it by using an unidentified mobile phone number (not using a smartphone, instead look for a plain old 'dumb' phone — there's lots of them out there).
Unfortunately, this is possible only in countries where you can purchase a mobile phone with an active SIM card anonymously (such as the USA, oddly enough). And it also means spending 30 or 40 dollars on the phone itself.
But if you can do that, not only will you be able to receive the email provider's verification code, you will also have an anonymous phone number you can use with your Merlin account as an additional layer of account-change verification. Note that this is not required; an email address is enough.
It's been said that "If you are not paying for the product, you are the product". This has never been more true when it comes to free email. Providers give away this service in order to build a large user base - the more viewers (people with active accounts), the more they can charge an advertiser for each ad.
To be effective, these have to be real users who come back frequently. And to be interesting to advertisers, the company must be able to categorize people demographically, separating young from old or male from female, and in many other ways.
For example, if a site can prove it has a large number of young male viewers, then it can make a compelling argument to a tire manufacturer that purchasing an ad on their site is a good buy. Conversely, if it can prove that it has a high percentage of women, then it will be attractive to the makers of feminine hygiene products or makeup.
In the early days of the internet it was enough to count the number of logins and offer only crude demographic information to potential advertisers. To be competitive today, sites must do much better than that; they must be able to tell advertisers a lot about who is logging in and precisely where they are, not just how often.
By requiring a phone number, the site can cross-reference both public and private phone number databases and derive detailed information about each customer, including gender, age, calling patterns, type of instrument and much more. And that tells them a lot. For example, people with expensive smart phones are more appealing to the makers of luxury products.
Certain 'free' email providers go much further: They automatically read every email looking for keywords in what you write.
If you mention that you're attaching some pictures you took with your iPhone, they know a lot about your economic level, and can target ads that are appropriate to your spending habits and brand inclinations.
That is why the service is 'free'. It's tightly linked to WHO you are. Most of the time that may not matter to you (although it bothers me a lot), but there's little point to using an anonymous product like Merlin if it's linked to an email account that isn't. And yet, you really need to have an email account that you can access reliably over time in order to manage Merlin (to add more devices, for example) and Kahuna™ (to buy or transfer Kahuna™ Traffic Credits).
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1. This pertains to yahoo.com. Domains such as yahoo.co.xx, where xx is a national qualifier such as ca or uk, may not behave in the same way or be subject to different regulations.
2. Other domains / sub-domains also offered at the same base domain do not qualify for the 5GB Kahuna™ Traffic Credit reward.