Off-the-grid: Email Provider

Note: Please, be aware that this post may contain affiliate links.

This page is part of my “off-the-grid” series

A bit of background knowledge

The current situation

For most people, it’s simply a matter of using the obligatory Gmail; Hotmail; Yahoo etc. These free email services, however, come with a cost. It may not even be a cost that can be quantified at first, but the companies have to make their money somehow.

Not too long since one of the ways that Google & Hotmail etc made money was to scan the content of an email1. Then when we read it they would target ads towards us based on the content of the actual email we were reading! This practice has now stopped, however1.

Now some may consider targetted ads to be a good thing. At least they get to be shown what they are interested in. Other consider targetted adverts to be a complete invasion of privacy.

The ideal situation

In an ideal world, we’d just be able to use these services without any security or privacy compromise. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen, so we have to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. I’ve tried to do as much of the digging around & sifting through email providers for you, but ultimately – it’s up to you to make your own mind up.

So what’s the answer?

Our own email servers?

I looked into installing my own email server software to see how easy that was. It turns out that there are several parts to an email server system, each of which needs to be properly configured… and that’s just for the back-end. Although I’m a very technically competent person, I found it much more complicated than I thought.

The result of my day of looking into the various email servers is that I decided that a lay-person probably wouldn’t be able to set up and configure their own email server correctly, securely and keep it updated.

External email servers

That leaves us with only one other option – that of using a cloud-based email server. I had to make sure that I found one that respects users privacy and security. How do you tell which services/companies actually DO respect your privacy/security? Well, that’s in my next post.

What’s wrong with Gmail/Hotmail/Yahoo etc

So what’s wrong with the status quo“, I might hear you ask. Well as I’ve already alluded to. If a service is free to the end-user it means that the company is making their money from our subscription some other way.

Selling our data

As we enter 2020, it will hopefully come as no surprise to people that their information is a great commodity. It could be:

  • the questions we ask our search engines
  • the locations we visit
  • what media we watch or listen to
  • the list is never-ending

…& then I found ProtonMail

I eventually settled on ProtonMail. They are a company in Geneva, Switzerland. They don’t require personal details to sign up for an email address, & they offer a free service (see next paragraph) as well as several paid tiers. Their free tier is adequate for normal users & their next level (“Plus”) is at a very reasonable 4 EUR per month (at the time of writing). Having checked it out, I can say that I personally think that this is by far the most beneficial solution.

I know I said to avoid free services, but ProtonMail makes it perfectly obvious how these free accounts are subsidised. They are paid for through the fee-based subscriptions & donations.

Encryption is easy

With ProtonMail, emails sent between ProtonMail users are automatically encrypted & it makes encrypting emails to none-ProtonMail users as easy as it could possibly be.

I published a post on my main/personal site over 3 years ago, in which I showed users how to use secure email, I often send my public key & sign my emails a matter of course, but ProtonMail makes this easier than ever.

Privacy is forefront

When it comes to privacy, you don’t even give your name when you register. All you give is the username that you want & a password. You can optionally add personal information such as a recovery email address etc. Of course, 2 Factor authentication is available, as well as the option to use 2 passwords (a new one on me).

Conclusion

I suppose the question of the post is “Is it worth getting away from the cloud when it comes to email?”. After looking at this question & thinking long and hard about the answer, I’d have to say – “no: it’s not worth it”.

As long as you choose your email provider carefully & use some sensible precautions, then there’s no reason to start installing your own servers.

Well, thanks everyone for your time & I look forward to seeing you all around.

References

  1. Google will no longer read your emails to personalise adverts
    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-reading-personal-emails-privacy

Grandadevans

I am a disabled veteran of 3 tours of Iraq and a tour of Afghanistan as part of the British Army. No longer able to work as I have to lay down on a sofa-bed in my living room 20-ish hours a day. I'm hoping to be able to make a living blogging about my Home Automation /Smart Home journey and maybe regain some dignity in life.

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