Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Good Alternatives to Bad Gmail

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Since I have been an advocate for the abandonment of Google services and Gmail in particular, I get to hear a lot of feedback on the matter. I am often informed by people that they made the conscious choice of sticking with Gmail because it is the best web email service out there and everything else is crap. I also noticed a lot of people in my circles, people who share my contempt for Google and its services, are often just as ignorant of the alternatives, too.
For the benefit of both camps, I decided to write this post and share some of my personal experience with alternative services to Gmail that do not treat one’s privacy with contempt and which are not there simply to act as a tool with which to vacuum as much personal information about a user as possible.
Before jumping in I will add that, as sad as it is, Google does have the advantage of offering a complete package (email, calendar, contacts and more) that works seamlessly and is dead easy to use – especially if yours is an Android smartphone. However, one does need to bear in mind that this comes at a price, and the price is you; fact of the matter is, there are worthy alternatives, and one does not have a reason to sacrifice oneself on the altar of Google’s bottom line.
With that in mind, here are the three web email services I recommend from my own personal experience:

1. GMX
I have been using GMX for a few years now; my wife has been using them for decades.
Although international by now, GMX is a German provider and therefore claims to adhere to German privacy legislation, a major step up from the default USA privacy protection laws that are best summarised as No Privacy Laws. The gist of that is that your email will not be read by GMX (although it is scanned for malware and spam assessment), nor will it be sold to third parties, but it will be given away to authorities bearing warrants. If you seek to avoid the NSA reading your emails then I do suggest you look elsewhere, because, as per Wikipedia, GMX does have USA based servers. And that aside of the fact that all emails travel the world quite openly when they move from sender to destination, ripe for the picking. [Yes, email is not a secure format and things that you email are not secure from prying eyes!]
GMX is a commercial email provider, no doubt about it. I would recommend using an ad blocker when you access GMX through a browser! I do find GMX to work very well on my iPhone/iPad/Thunderbird setups, certainly much better than Microsoft’s Outlook; I would rate its IMAP performance on par with Gmail, which is saying a lot.
Generally speaking, since moving from Gmail to GMX I haven’t looked back. The only problem I can report? Gmail seems way too kin to classify emails I send to its addresses from my GMX as spam.

Stepping up a notch on the privacy department from GMX, we arrive at Tutanota: another German provider sporting adherence to German privacy laws. The main promise with Tutanota is encryption: its solution encrypts your email before they leave your device with an encryption key of your choice, so that Tutanota itself cannot read them without applying its inside knowledge. In addition, emails you send to other Tutanota users are end to end encrypted, negating the need to resort to painful measures such as PGP encryption. And if that’s not enough, Tutanota allows you to encrypt emails sent to non Tutanota users with a password of your choice (I guess you can coordinate a password through facilities such as Signal). This is a big deal, because it allows everybody to send encrypted emails for free without requiring them to acquire Edward Snowden grade IT skills in order to run PGP encryption.
If you do choose to go with Tutanota, you do need to bear two things in mind: First, unencrypted emails sent to non Tutanota addresses are still as exposed as all other emails, and are therefore to be regarded by the pessimists amongst us as public. Second, the use of encryption means one cannot use Tutanota through the generic IMAP/POP email applications on one’s smartphone or through applications like Thunderbird. That said, Tutanota does offer iOS apps with a well functioning notification system, and their browser facilities are good.

Proton’s concept is very similar to Tutanota’s, encryption and all, with the key difference being Swiss rather than German based. Since you’re probably aware of the Swiss banking system, you will already know the Swiss come bearing good privacy protection policies.
Unlike Tutanota, Proton does not have iOS apps yet (these are claimed to be under development), so you have to use a browser. Proton does ask for a second email address into which they will email you notifications of activities in their inbox as some sort of compensation.
Also worth mentioning is that with Proton you cannot get your email working instantly; you have to wait (in my case, for a few weeks) before your email is up and running.

In conclusion I would also like to mention the above three services offer, to one extent or another, facilities for contacts and calendar management. That said, I do not consider those particularly useable; I will therefore reserve the discussion on worthy Google calendar/contacts alternatives for another post.


Image by EFF Photos, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

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