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Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Friday, 24 September 2010 14:59 UK

Real life postage that just needs your e-mail address

By LJ Rich
BBC Click

Parcel Genie
Parcel Genie works with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

The saying "keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer" could be in need of an update.

We already know not to share our pin number, but if you don't know all of your friends that well, would you be happy to give them your home address?

With the popularity of social networking sites we now have more friends than ever.

But online social friendships have the same issues as those in real life. For example, most people would not want to share their sort code and account number with just anyone.

Paypal has been so successful because it offers a service which retains bank details securely. Last year, it handled around one in six online transactions.

But, when it comes to actually receiving goods through a site like eBay, you still have to give out your real address to a stranger.

This problem is now being addressed by a number of companies offering a service where mail can be sent without ever needing to know its final destination.

There's an increasing interlinking between your electronic world and your real world, and I think that that's going to inevitably progress
John Taylor, CEO of Parcel Genie

Most sites tend to be American, and only work within US borders, but Parcel Genie, which was also one of the first to market, now operates across 40 countries.

Choose a gift from its site and to get it to the right person all you need is a friend's Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn username.

Stalker proof?

Prospective cyber-stalkers take note, you can only send to your followers or friends. And only after they have given you permission.

"I think it's that instantaneous ability to say something and do something which we all enjoy currently in all sorts of other ways," says John Taylor, head of Parcel Genie.

"People do have a reticence about sharing really deeply personal information… but you can see with some of the moves by some of the big social networks that there's an increasing interlinking between your electronic world and your real world, and I think that that's going to inevitably progress," he said.

Send Social label
Send Social labels do not disclose personal details to members

But, fun as it is to choose gifts from a catalogue to send to online buddies, what happens when you want to send something more specific?

Start-up Send Social is UK-wide so far, and goes beyond just gifting, allowing you to send and receive any package.

"The only piece of information you see is the information you already know - that might be a Facebook name, a Twitter id or e-mail address," says Jonathan Grubin, head of Send Social.

"Everything else is never disclosed. If you're using eBay, for example, Send Social not only protects your identity, but I think it's just an easier way of doing what you already do."

The idea works by using a special label which is unreadable to members but understood by partnering delivery companies - allowing you to send whatever you want from your house with a label.

One of these partners is Bybox. Ten years ago it started out as a drop box service - where delivery companies could leave customers' products that had been ordered from online retailers.

ByBox now operates a network of locker boxes around the UK, and deliver box-to-box, rather than door-to-door.

Woman picking up a parcel sent by Send Social
When an item is delivered you receive a text message with a code that you can use to access the Bybox

Dan Turner, co-founder of Bybox, says that when the company changed its approach, the business only had enough money to keep it going for three weeks.

"We always believed the Bybox was perfectly suited to the busy modern world where people weren't at home anymore waiting to receive a delivery - internet shopping was going crazy."

"When we started the business we felt that one day the concept of the delivery address would be replaced by an e-mail - just like Send Social are doing now," he says.

These services are really just beginning, relying on local partnerships in other countries.

Far from actually destroying our privacy, the internet could be developing meaningful ways of safeguarding it.

And although the infrastructure is not quite there yet, an e-mail address could be all you need to send something halfway round the world.



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