Comparing private paid email services like Proton Mail and free services like Gmail, for those concerned about privacy and disturbed by Google’s giant database of deeply personal information, are private email services worth the money?
What Google Does With Gmail
While Google doesn’t technically “read” your emails, they do spy on your content in a slightly less Orwellian but no less effective way. While Google no longer scans emails to personalize ads, it does still scan your emails. That’s how the Gmail app can offer clever integrations like automatically adding flight data to your calendar or providing a tracking link without opening an email from a retailer. So Google can and does scan your emails, whether it’s for advertising or not. That information is processed by their robots and stored on their servers, accessible to a third-party that you can’t see, control, or limit. If that makes you nervous, then it’s time to jump ship.
About iCloud Email
Apple’s existing iCloud.com email services are fine, as email services go. It’s free, provided with a reasonable degree of features like IMAP, folders, and other features of modern email clients. Better still, Apple isn’t interested in scanning your email. They don’t sell advertisements like Google does.
Of course, that means they also don’t offer the helpful features of Gmail, like auto-adding flights to your calendar. So, if you’re leaving Google, you’re leaving behind the positive features of Gmail as well as the negative. And if you’re moving to a more restricted email service, you may as well go all the way to a truly private and fully-encrypted email service, even if it costs a few dollars.
Encrypted Email vs Private Email
Encryption is one feature you’ll want to look for, but it’s not the same as private email. Technically, a cleartext email server with no encryption could be called “private,” provided they protect their users privacy and don’t dig into their email messages. But those messages could be easily ready by anyone else with access to the files. Encrypted emails, on the other hand, are secure behind a cryptographic lock and key. Modern encryption algorithms used by such sites are immune to modern decrypting strategies.
Signatures are another component of a secure email chain, and that’s not just the sign-off at the bottom of your email. The signature is a cryptographic tag uniquely associated with the sender, confirming that the email was authentically sent by the named sender and that the message wasn’t changed between composition and receipt. Services that send encrypted emails can’t be ready by third parties, even if your emails do fall into devious hands.
Private Emails Services That Are Worth the Money
Here are three private email services that are worth trusting.
1. Proton Mail provides secure communications through a web interface and ProtonMail mobile app. All emails are encrypted using end-to-end encryption, ensuring that any message in your inbox can only be read by you. Only paid users can send encrypted emails to external sources, but every tier lock down all messages on the ProtonMail server, preventing both third- and first-party snooping for any reason. And since those servers are located in Switzerland, the U.S. government cannot compel the service to release information. Swiss companies are not subject to the U.S. justice system in the same way that U.S.-based tech companies are. There’s even a free tier for you to give the service a test drive.
2. HushMail is as close as you can get to encrypted Gmail. The interface for both the mobile and desktop apps are strikingly similar. The service is highly secured, meeting standards the privacy standards for healthcare providers and law enforcement. HushMail includes email alongside secure web forms, making them a great choice for small business with a single point of contact and a need for collecting and storing data securely. There’s a 14-day free trial you can use to get started with the service.
3. CounterMail supports IMAP, so you can use your own email client instead of a web app. But it offers limited storage space and can’t send encrypted emails to non-users. Servers are based in Sweden, putting them outside the reach of Five Eyes law enforcement organizations. But even if they were in their jurisdiction, CounterMail doesn’t even store emails on the server, but instead stored on removable storage.
Image credit: EFF Photos
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