This may be considered old news, but I got an email from a friend and client today asking if I’d seen a Wordfence email about Gravatars and their potential to be reverse engineered to expose your email address.
She shared the email with me, so I took a look to see what Wordfence had to say about Gravatars and it’s certainly a valid concern for anyone who wants to protect their email address and privacy. Lord knows we all get more than our fair share of SPAM without sending out invitations asking for more.
As always the folks over at Wordfence did a great job laying out the details, but Lucy had asked for a second opinion and I thought I’d share my thoughts here with you too, because… well you know, two opinions are always better than one right?
Basically what I see is that if you setup a Gravatar account and associate it with your email address/es and website/s that information could potentially be reverse engineered from the Gravatar image, but not without expending a fair amount of effort.
To Gravatar or Not to Gravatar – that is the question!
My take on this is, and I think even the Bard would agree with me, that most people who have a website or web presence, especially if they’re blogging, would want people to be able to “find them” any way they can, incuding via their avatar. Although there are much faster and easier ways to “find people” than reverse engineering their Gravatar.
It’s really only going to be an issue if you’re concerned about privacy in which case I would recommend using a pen name and a PO Box. But seriously, if privacy is a REAL concern for you, don’t use the internet and basically… Dude – you just need to “go dark”!
Are There Disadvantages to Gravatars?
The possible disadvantage is, assuming you’re not a business or a blogger, so already “spray painting” your domain and email around like you’re Jackson Pollack at every opportunity (including dropping it into fishbowls and pinning it on bulletin boards), that some unscrupulous types with too much time on their hands, may use your Gravatar to scrape your email address and sell it, resulting in a Pythonesque amount of Spam targeting your inbox.
If you have an effective Spam filter – Akismet (maybe) or Barracuda, SpamAssasin or some other Spam firewall system (check if it’s available through your hosting service) then it may not be a real issue or concern for you.
Are There Advantages to Using Gravatars?
There are advantages to Gravatars and there are definitely legitimate ways to use them to help your audience “find” you.
The most obvious benefit is when you comment or post on sites that display Gravatars (which is most WordPress sites), your profile image will appear next to your author bio and/or any comments you post and that’s a way to let people “see” who you are.
If the reader already knows you the benefit (you hope) is instant authority or credibility for your comment or post. If they don’t know you yet, they may use the Gravatar to seek you or your website out based on what you’ve said.
What are Gravatar Hovercards?
There are some sites which allow Gravatar Hovercards, where when you hover over the Gravatar image, you’ll see a short bio/business card fly-out with a link to your main profile. This can work well if you’re trying to establish authority and/or credibility.
For Hovercards to work on your WordPress website you’ll need to have the Jetpack plugin installed and activated:
Go to the Engagement tab, then scroll down and turn on the Hovercard feature:
So… I’m curious how do you plan to use Gravatars or Hovercards?
Leave a comment and let me know…